One Great Foster Family

A person reading my entry “One Child’s Horror” earlier today wrote and asked a number questions about the foster family I stayed with for over 4 1/2 years. Her questions has led me to this entry.

This blog entry is dedicated to Mom and Dad Monshor, who provided me the only positive, loving experience of my early childhood. Although they were not allowed to adopt me legally, they did so within their hearts, as I adopted them within mine!

From the day of my birth until shortly past my eleventh birthday, I was moved to eleven foster homes and four institutions. One of the foster homes I was fortunate to be moved to three times and spend a total of 6-1/2 years at, was the home of Mom and Dad Monshor.

I began this entry calling Ernest and Mildred Monshor, Mom and Dad. They will always be Mom and Dad to me. Although they were never allowed to adopt me and I was removed from their home three times, they are the only people I have ever considered my parents. I loved them as a child, I love them even more now as an adult and I will love them until I take my final breath.

I first came to the Monshor home days after my second birthday, remaining there six months before being moved.

After four brief months with another family, I was returned to the Monshor home where I would remain for two years. I was removed a second time in 1954 and moved to three different foster homes in the next 1-1/2 years. In 1956, I was returned to the Monshor home and would remain there for the next four plus years.

My second and third times with the Monshor family were the most stable times in my short life to that point.
They were also the most loving times. I know I was not considered just another foster child. I was treated and loved as one of their own. At the time Mom and Dad had a grown son (Raymond, aka Sonny), an adopted son (Dennis) and two adopted daughters (Susan and Genevieve). Over the years, they had also taken in over thirty foster children for various lengths of time. No matter how long you were with them, you were considered and treated as a member of their family.

There are many fond memories of my childhood years with Mom and Dad.

As a small tike, I was sickly, having whooping cough more than once. The doctors feared I might die from it. There were many nights when the coughing would begin, Mom would get up from her bed to carry me in her arms over her shoulder, gently patting my back until the coughing stopped. This could occur more than once a night.

It was Mom and Dad who recognized I had a problem with my left eye (lazy eye) and saw to it that steps were taken to try and correct it. I underwent five surgeries and therapy. Unfortunately it was to no avail.

Mom sat with me the night before I was to have my tonsils removed, comforting me as I was a scared five year old, and seeing to it that there was ice cream and a smile for me when I came out of surgery.

On Sundays, the kids would all be sent to church. When we came home, we went to the downstairs kitchen to gather around the large rectangular table.There was Dad stirring his infamous big pot of spaghetti sauce, ready to feed the troops. It was so, so good! Dad was a cook in the US Army during World War II and was an excellent cook.

Their adopted son Dennis died in 1954 at age 14 due to an enlarged heart. Though I have no recollections, Mom and Dad told me later of the closeness Dennis and I had, and how protective he always was of me.

I was confirmed in the Catholic Church early in 1960 by Cardinal Deardon of Detroit. I did not tell anyone prior to the ceremony the name I had chosen to take for my confirmation name. Afterwards I told Mom and Dad I took the name Dennis to remember him and to honor them. I still remember Dad’s broad smile and Mom being Mom, all teary-eyed.

Their son Raymond (aka Sonny) proposed to Marge at Christmas 1953. I didn’t understand what he was doing, so I asked. When I found out, I remember telling him, “No, you can’t have her…she’s my gal!” I loved his fiance and whenever she came over, I ran to her and clung to her. She was very special.

During the last four years of a somewhat stable home enviornment, I started school. I attended kindergarten through third grades at St. Gabriel. Mom would sit with us kids after dinner around the table and help us complete our homework assignments. Baths, bedtime prayers and bed soon followed.

Many nights, Mom would come to my bed to tuck me in and to sing me to sleep. Her favorite was a revised song containing the words of “When I was just a little boy, I asked my mother, what would I be, here’s what she said to me.” I still find myself humming that song today when I am feeling really down in the dumps…it usually brings me out of it and puts a smile on my face.

Then there were trips in Dad’s 1957 Studebaker. It was black and hot in the summer. It was before the days of air conditioned cars. How I enjoyed those rides with hot air blowing in my face…NOT!

Mom so tenderly planted and cared for her garden. Each spring the back yard would come alive with color.

I was removed from Mom and Dad’s home a second time a month before Christmas in 1954. I have no memory of Christmas 1954 or 1955.

I do remember Christmas 1956 however, as I was back home. The Saturday before Christmas, Susan, Genevieve and I were sent over to St. Gabriel School for a Christmas program. When we left the house, it was devoid of anything Christmas. What a difference when we returned a few short hours later.

Outside Dad had strung Christmas lights…the big old fashioned ones.

Inside, the tree had been decked in it’s Christmas finest. On the fireplace hung five stockings. Inscribed on each was, Mom, Dad, Daughter, Daughter and Son.

I remember asking Mom, “Who is the Son stocking for?…Sonny?” Mom said, “No, that is for YOU!”

My heart still feels the love and warmth of that statement. I don’t remember what I got that Christmas, but the most important thing I received was LOVE. I have no childhood memories of other Christmases…this one was/is special.

In the early fall of the year Mom pulled out the canning jars, then spent hours cooking and canning beans, tomatoes, beets and peaches, to name a few. She also made batches of applesauce and an out of this world apple butter.
At the same time, Dad would be making his chili sauce of tomatoes, onions, red/green papers…like today’s salsa. Dad was making it long before it became popular.

I can still almost smell the alluring aroma of Mom’s apple pies. They were both great cooks.

Back then, parents were parents. In the pantry, on a hook, was Dad’s old Army strap. Neither Mom or Dad were bashful in using it if I did something to deserve it. The only damage it did was cause a temporarily bruised ego and a little reddening of the behind. I admit I earned the strap on a few occasions. It did me far more good than it ever did me harm.

From 1956-1960 my life had a degree of stability though I could be snapped up and removed to another home at any time. It was during these years I remember thinking for the first time; “Why was I not a member of any one family?” “Why didn’t anyone want me?” “Why didn’t anyone love me enough to make me their son?” “Why did I keep getting moved from home to home?”

Oh, so many fond memories. I have shared but a few here. If only this could be my permanent home, my family.

The stability of four years came to sudden end in May, 1960, when I was abruptly removed from the Monshor’s home.

I remember that fateful day of May 17, 1960, like it was yesterday. We had celebrated Susan’s sixteenth birthday two days previously. I scampered through the alley from school heading home.

Upon entry into the backyard, I saw Mom. She was crying. She came to me and held me. I looked up and could see inside the enclosed back porch, what had to be a social worker. Without a word being said, I knew then why Mom was crying. I was again going to be taken from the only ones I ever called Mom and Dad.

I broke down crying as Mom held me tightly. I tried as best as a ten year old could to reassure Mom. I told her, “It’s okay Mom, I’ll be all right. No matter where they send me, you’ll always be Mom.”

With that, I dried my eyes, went inside to “paper bag” my worldly possessions not knowing what would be in store for me. I knew I had to be brave for Mom! I packed a just a few possessions in the bag and went out to the living room. There was Mom standing by the social worker still crying. She asked where were all my other things? I told her she might care for another little boy and I would want him to have them.

I, one more time, hugged Mom and told her I loved her and to tell Dad the same. With that, before starting to cry again, I told the social worker I was ready. I ended up being the last foster child Mom and Dad would care for.

As the social worker and I made our way to the front door I could still hear Mom crying. I had to keep walking. Throughout all this the social worker said nothing. Little did I know, I would never again be returned to Mom and Dad’s home.

However, Catholic Charites didn’t know I was already a very determined young boy and that they could not break the bond that had been established. Six and a half years of my ten years of life had been spent with the Monshors. They had cared for me and loved me, my feelings toward them could not and would not be changed.

The removal from their home did not end my relationship with the Mom and Dad.

I was sent to another foster home where I was to stay for nine months…it was a house of horrors.

In April 1961 I was sent to Boys Town, Nebraska where I would remain for the next seven and a half years.

During those years I remained in close contact with the Monshors. I considered them to be my family no matter what anyone said.

Upon my graduation from Boys Town in 1968, I was released as a ward of the court. I was considered an adult and able to do as I wished. I continued to write and visit Mom and Dad. Yes, though I had not lived with them for eight years, they still were Mom and Dad to me.

I wrote them during my college years and as I went out in the world to make it on my own. I visited them whenever I could make my way to Detroit.

How well I remember my last visit when I saw Dad. He was sitting in the kitchen as the visit ended. I got down on my knees to give him a big hug and tell him that I loved him. He didn’t seem to want to let go. When he finally did, I looked up at him and for the first time I can remember, saw tears in his eyes.

Dad was not a very demonstrative man. That day he seemed to be telling me that he knew this would be the last time we would see each other. It was his way of saying good-bye and also that he loved me. I took him back in my arms to hug him once again, and to let him know I understood what he was saying and to repeat that I loved him. We both ended up in tears.

On October 15, 1975, Ernest Monshor (Dad) died at age 66.

Just eight short years later on April 24, 1983 Mildred Monshor (Mom) also passed away at age 71.

Mom and Dad never told me during their lives that they attempted to adopt me as their son. I would learn of this only after Mom’s death, during the search for my birth parents.

If they could have told me, it would have eased the pain of my youth thinking that I was a child not wanted. I believe they, in their own protective way, thought they were again shielding me from hurt and don’t hold their not telling me against them.

Mom and Dad had attempted to adopt me in early 1960. They were denied with no reason given. It was just weeks after that I was removed from their home.

A couple years after Mom’s passing I decided to write Sonny Monshor. I wanted to share some memories of Mom and Dad with him and also hoped to obtain some pictures of them and myself during my childhood years.

I had not heard from Sonny at this point for over a quarter of a century. I did not receive a reply to my letter to Sonny and thought that this would be the end of my story and relationship with the Monshors. I would be left alone in this world and just have my memories of them to cherish.

Eighteen years passed since that letter to Sonny. Many times  I had thought of writing to Sonny one more time…each time I responded with a NO. I did not want to get hurt again.

On April 15, 2003, I had a change of heart. For some reason I could no longer tell myself no. I wrote Sonny a short letter. I have to be honest and say I did not expect a reply.

I worked nights. So I can sleep during the day, I turn the ringer of my phone off. Many days I leave it off after I awake so I am also not bothered by the bombardment of telemarketers. I let my answering machine screen calls. Well, many days I tend to forget to even look at my answering machine to see if there are any messages on it. I do this even though the machine is right next to my home computer and I am at it everyday.

On Monday, April 21, 2003, after not checking my machine for a few days, I suddenly looked over at it. I saw there were two messages on it.

WOW! You could have blown me over with a feather when I listened to the first message. “Hi Larry, this is Sonny Monshor.” There were a couple things in between, but ended with; “Marge is with me, and she’s still my gal.” Memories of that Christmas night in 1953 (50 years prior) came flooding back again. I was overwhelmed and on cloud nine!

I didn’t even listen to the second message on the machine. I immediately attempted to return Sonny’s call. The line was busy and would remain so for the next half hour. Talk about the need for patience…grrrrr 🙂

After the sixth attempt, I heard the phone ringing. Marge answered the phone and I asked for Sonny without identifying myself. I heard Marge yell out to Sonny, “I think it’s OUR Larry!” She also came back to me saying, “It is Larry, isn’t it?” “Yes, Marge,” I responded. My head was still spinning from the words “OUR LARRY.” OUR, I had not talked with them in now over forty years.

My last time with them was in 1959 when Sonny got a job with NASA. They came to the house to say good-bye to the folks. I remember crying as I clung to Marge and Sonny and the two little girls I considered my nieces, Gayle and Maryann…forced to say good-bye to people I had grown to love.

Soon Sonny came to the phone. “Larry, how are you” he said. It was like we had last spoken only yesterday, rather than 40+ years ago. Then without hesitation, the shocker of the call came.

I heard Sonny say, “Do you know WE tried to adopt you?” Yes, I learned Mom and Dad tried to adopt me once,” I said. “No, not Mom and Dad…Marge and I,” was the reply. I am briefly stunned. “What do you mean,” I said. Then out came yet another surprise.

“Mom and Dad tried to adopt you when you came back home in 1956. They were denied. When that happened, because Marge and I loved you so much also…we then tried to adopt you. We wanted you as part of OUR family. We saw how you loved Gayle and tried to be her big brother…and we wanted you to be.”

“Oh my God, I never knew of Mom and Dad’s first attempt and had no clue you ever tried. You aren’t kidding me are you?” That was my reply.

Sonny then shared how devastated Mom and Dad were when they were denied in their adoption attempt. They wanted so much for me to permanently be part of the family…and to be their SON.

I now understood why the SON stocking was hung on the fireplace that Christmas in 1956. Mom and Dad were hoping it would become true!

Sonny and Marge had married in 1954. Marge had Gayle as her first born and then Maryann. They wanted a son as well as a big brother for the girls. I fit the role perfectly and they also loved me. I would also permanently be a part of the family, though Mom and Dad would then be called Grandma and Grandpa. Instead of having Sonny as a brother and Marge as a sister-in-law they hoped to become Mom and Dad. They were not approved and no reason was given.

I would have been happy and proud to call them Mom and Dad. I would have been able to call Sonny’s parents Grandmother and Grandfather. A year later they made their move to Florida never to see or talk to me again until this day…44 years later!

I just found it so hard to believe, though I knew it was true, what Sonny was telling me. Not ONCE but THREE TIMES someone told the foster care system they wanted me as their son. Three times they denied the request. I kept going back to this as Sonny and I continued our lengthy conversation. It had to sink in. To think I was allowed to go through my childhood into my adult life thinking no one wanted me as thier son.

Maybe it is better I am just finding out recently of these attempts to adopt me. I know I am better able to deal with the pain I feel now than I would have been able to as a 6 year old, or eight year old and even as a ten year old. Now I know how untrue this feeling actually was. I knew I was loved and now I know I was wanted far more than I ever even imagined before.
Sonny and I, and Marge, as she was on a second line, talked about so many things as time rolled by. He recalled the story of Christmas 1953 as if it were just yesterday along with other memories. We talked about our lives since those days.

Marge ,at one point, interjected how different I sounded. I had to remind her I was no longer the soprano voiced nine year old she remembered, but now a man of fifty-three. I hope my voice had changed 🙂

I brought up the subject of my letter of eighteen years prior. Yes, Sonny remembered getting it but never being able to reply to it. It was lost. They had hoped throughout these past years that I would write again so they could contact me. Here all these years I believed I had been rejected. Oh so many lost years because of a simple misunderstanding!

Sonny told me that he couldn’t remember how many times over the years that he and Marge had thought about me; how they had talked of me and wondered how I was, where I was and what I might be doing?

As I sit here writing this I think of the years I thought Sonny looked at me as just another of the foster kids Mom and Dad had in their home. I now find out that it was his heartfelt desire…if he couldn’t have me as his brother…he wanted me as his SON! What an awesome thought. I have chills running down my spine as I think of it. Oh, how wrong I had been.

There were many other thoughts shared during this conversation, but I choose to keep them within myself.

We ended our conversation, so grateful on all our parts, that this day had finally come. We would write, talk on the phone and hopefully soon be able to see each other face to face again.

They provided many the old family photographs which has allowed me to see myself not as a blank slate between my baby picture and a picture at age eleven, which has been the picture for over 40 years.

That night at work, despite the length of conversation, I wrote a long letter to Sonny and Marge. The one thing I remember saying was, “I would have been happy and proud to have been able to call them Mom and Dad.” I enclosed with the letter pictures of me at eleven and eighteen along with more recent pictures. They can see me as the youth they remember, and now as the adult I have become.

The loss of forty-four years of sharing with Sonny, Marge and the girls weighs heavily on my heart. The feeling of “what if” and “if only” repeats itself in my mind. SO many opportunities lost; so many could have been memories never to be memories. How different my life might have turned out…though I will not sit here and complain.

Alas, I cannot dwell on what has happened as I do not have the ability to undo anything. Things have happened and are forever written in the chapters of our lives. But today, we are given a new opportunity to create a new chapter in this book of life. To create memories, to create sharing experiences and most importantly…to share the love that has always been there for each other. Now that we have found, we will not let the opportunity for a second chance slip through our fingertips.

In May 2004, at their invite, I travelled to Florida to help them celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. I spent a great four days with them. I went home with even more photographs of my childhood, including a photo taken of me at 3 days old.

Marge has suffered a major stroke since my trip. She also suffers now from severe dementia. She has been in a nursing home for over a year and a half and has survived death’s call more than once during this time. Sonny also has several medical issues.

I hope and pray that my finances will alow me to make another trip to see them before either of them are called home.

I have spent the past forty years in the search of this peace within myself. I now know that not only did someone love me, but also wanted me as a Son. I found a degree of comfort, in finding my birth parents, siblings and extended family…but nothing compares to the peace I have now. I know now, my long searching journey is over. I have found what I have been looking for these past many years. I am home, I have my family…I can ask no more of life.

My life has now come full circle. From the Monshor home full of love and acceptance, to many years of wandering in the wilderness of life not knowing if anyone cared, to home again with people I have always loved.

I know I will do other research, as the interest in genealogy is there. But the searches will be for genealogical purposes only…I have found EVERYTHING else that I was searching for.

I know throughout my life, in a spiritual way, that I have not walked alone. In real life, many times I have felt I have…that feeling will be no more!

Rest in peace Dennis…Rest in peace Dad…Rest in peace Mom…I’m home.

One Child’s Horror

      Could you survive such emotional, psychological or physical traumas?

      You go through childhood barely remembering what your mother smelled like. Since you never knew your mother, you’re moved from home to home 16 times by the age of 19 feeling you had about a hundred mothers.

      In the process of being moved all over the place, you lose your brothers and sisters, a particular pair of shoes that felt just right, your absolutely most favorite cuddly, and a certain place on the inside of your last crib where you used to scratch with your fingernail to help you go to sleep.

     You’re placed in a juvenile detention center when your only crime was not having a family of your own, and raped numerous times with no one paying the price, giving up on life and attempting suicide at the young age of ten?

      I’d like to share a story with you about a little boy who has just been born.

      He should be wrapped in his loving mother’s arms with his mother’s scent all about him, and with family gathering ‘round, full of joy at his birth. But he doesn’t feel those loving arms nor hear the sounds of joy. He is moved from one nursery to another. He is alone.

      Days, weeks and months go by. The calendar moves toward his first birthday, yet he still remains…alone!

      He hears someone…a stranger…calling his name. Someone is picking him up and saying they are taking him home.

      Years pass. He has heard strangers repeat his name and say “Pack your bag…you are leaving!” ten different times. He is only six years old. Each time he has heard it, he had just begun to make friends…now they are gone. He begins to feel comfortable where he is, but now it’s time to move again. Stability and permanence would be words in a dictionary, not in his ordinary life.

      Each move has brought him to unfamiliar surroundings and people. Each time he has had to pack his “brown paper bag” with all his worldly possessions. The bag is never full. No one has yet called him Son…he is only called by his first name. He hears he is a foster child for the first time. He hears the word “bastard” in relation to him as well.

      No one loves him. He doesn’t belong wherever he has gone. He is treated differently than others and no one wants him. He has no permanent home. He walks from school to his temporary home slowly, having developed a fear that it may no longer be his home when he gets there.

      He suddenly finds himself in a home where things are different, where he is treated with love. He is treated as part of the family and starts to lose his fear of leaving school to go home. He is getting comfortable where he is.

      He is in this home one, two, three years. He believes he has finally found a home. He has made and kept friends for longer than a few months. He passes a fourth year and is half way through another.

      He arrives home from school one day and sees a stranger in the house. He slows down going up the walkway and begins to tremble. He sees the one he loves and calls “Mom” crying. The stranger in the room is a caseworker from Catholic Charities. He goes to his Mom to hold her…to cry with her and comfort her.

      He knows what this means and packs his “paper bag” once again. Carrying it, he is walking out of the house he has known for four and one half years as home. He looks back as he is slowly driven away…he knows in his heart he won’t be back to live here again.

      He is placed in a juvenile detention center with young men who have committed every imaginable crime. His only crime is he has no parents or home to call his own.

      He is the youngest boy on the block, as well as the smallest. Though he attempts to fight, he is unable to overcome the attacks of older boys. He is repeatedly sexually assaulted.

      One day after being assaulted and left naked in a cell, he feels his life is no longer worth living. He attempts to hang himself with a belt, but is discovered and placed in isolation. Those responsible for the repeated rapes are never charged.

      He lives in isolation for over two months while yet another temporary home is found for him.

      He is in a strange place once again. He is in a new school and has no friends. He is treated as a stranger. He is not a part of this family. He is forced to eat alone.

      He is given but one meal a day, and no seconds were allowed. This forces him to steal from classmates’ lunches to lessen his hunger pangs. The back porch serves as his bedroom both in summer’s heat and winter’s cold.

      Christmas comes…the only gifts he receives are the clothes that were given him by the St. Vincent de Paul Society a week earlier as his semiannual clothing allotment. There is nothing from this family for him under the tree.

      Months pass. He is told to “pack his bag.” They are coming for him in the morning. He is being moved yet again.

      He is asleep this last night, when suddenly he is jolted awake. Before him stands another person…exposing himself. He intends to have the boy remember his last night in this house. The boy screams out in terror and lashes out every way possible.

      He hears someone coming, asking, “What is going on?”

      He tells his story, but is not believed. He is told, “You no good, ungrateful, lying little bastard! No wonder no one wants you! Get your bag and get your ass out of this house!”

      He hears and feels the hard slap and sting of a hand across his reddened face. He is forced to sit on the outside stoop in the cold night, to await them coming to get him in the morning.

      He is picked up, and soon on a plane for the first time in his life and doesn’t know where he is being taken. The person taking him is not speaking to him. He lands in a place he has never heard of and has no idea where he is, only that he has been moved again.

      You have been reading this for just a few minutes. In that short time, this young boy has been moved 15 times. He has been uprooted from the only place he considered home and the people he loved. He has made friends and lost them. He has changed schools. He has been made to feel a part of a family and as a stranger. He has been sexually assaulted. He has attempted suicide. He is alone again. He is but 11 years old!

      Can you imagine how this young boy felt? I don’t need to imagine any of the story just shared with you or the feelings this young boy felt. It is a story not just about any little boy. It is a TRUE story…and I WAS that young boy.

      I was placed in foster care the day of my birth. Though my birth mother had indicated months before my birth that she was placing me for adoption, the home for unwed mothers did nothing prior to my birth to arrange one. I spent my first six months in the nursery of the hospital where I was born and then was moved back to the nursery of the home for unwed mothers for almost another six months. The merry go round of the system had already begun.

      Shortly before my first birthday I was placed in a foster home…already in three places by age one and none to really call home! I was bounced from place to place; a total of 15 times in 11 years. I sometimes slipped through the cracks and got shuffled around unnoticed and forgotten. No reason was ever given for the move, nor was I ever spoken to about moving. I was voiceless as others controlled what was to happen to me.

      What were they thinking when they sent me to a foster home without telling them about the special ways I needed to be handled because I had never stayed anywhere long enough to get attached to anybody? And when that family got rid of me, and the next, and the next, did they think I was going to take it all lying down? Did they think I was supposed to just be sweet and adorable and ready to connect to yet another family who was going to throw me away?

      After a while, I had lost too many people that I might have cared about. I had been with too many “parents” who really weren’t, because they couldn’t hold me tightly in their hearts at all. No one understood how I was being changed by all these losses (in my heart and in my behavior).

      I was always living on the outside looking in. I thought when I was little everyone was the same; only to find out I was treated differently, not because of who I was, but rather what I was.

      I lived in a world of never knowing; where I would live, who would take care of me, or where I would go to school. I never knew if I would ever be secure again, where home is or where I belonged.

      I rarely had friends as I was seldom in one place long enough to make them. I didn’t know what it felt like to attend the same school more than a year or so.

      One is always movable once you have no home to call your own. A home is not just a place to lay one’s head. A home is where you can stay, where you can be comfortable, where you know you will always be safe and secure.

      Once I got used to all the moving and different schools I somehow found within myself a space to furnish as I would my room, finding scraps of things I could embrace. I could at least become comfortable knowing I was alone, knowing I would be the only one who is going to look out for me.

      I became known as a loner. I depended on nobody but myself. This caused more problems.

      I built brick walls and didn’t let anyone in. Once the walls were in place it took much to take them down. If they start to come down and something happened, I would put them back up higher than they were before.

      Each time I got hurt, the walls were built higher. I lost much time in keeping those walls high and strong. I had no trust, no bond, and it made it hard to build a relationship. If I was lucky enough to find someone who was willing to fight for me, I still would not totally depend on them, which hurt them. I saw the pain in their eyes, which in return, hurt me even more. The hurt only caused more pain and started the walls to be raised again, or I ran and kept on running, from one relationship to another.

      My childhood is almost impossible to trace. It was only years later and after many years of research that I was able to begin putting it all together.

      I was an enigma tangled up in a mystery. I was the lost puzzle pieces swept under the rug. I was a missing link in a chain of life. I had no roots. I was like tumbleweed blown in the wind calling home wherever the breeze took me. I was a chameleon changing colors to blend into my surroundings.

      My losses were etched upon my face and within my eyes pain for which no penance can atone. How could I be forced to move continuously from place to place?

      At age 11 the state gave up on me and sent me off to Boys Town, Nebraska to be someone else’s burden, even though I was born in Detroit, Michigan. They put an 11 year old boy who had never been out of Detroit or on a plane, with a caseworker who would not say a word to me throughout the over four-hour flight as to where I was being sent.

      Aging out of the system was my sixteenth and final move. I was basically thrown out on the streets as the system washed its hands of me. Whether I had gained a support system or not, I was now considered an adult and sent out on my own. It was up to me to make it or not.

      It is no wonder I have moved a number of times in the years since. I was used to it! Yet, somehow despite what I had endured, I survived with a peculiar grace, even though my heart should have turned to stone as I was moved about from place to place so very often.

      The system was responsible for providing my most basic needs as a child. By basics I don’t mean simply shelter and food, but a stable home life, the knowledge that someone actually gave a damn about me, self-worth, and most importantly, the ability to trust those responsible for me! They did not even come close to achieving them.

      As a child, all I ever truly wanted was a place to call home, a family to love me, someone to call me SON! I don’t think I desired too much…one family I could love and call my own! Because of the system, those simple desires NEVER became a reality!

      How did I feel during and after my years in foster care? I felt pain and anger, like a nobody, unwanted, depressed, and in constant fear of what each new day might bring. I also felt, worthless, a failure, second class, alone, depressed, that no one understood, felt no one really cared about me, and that life was not worth living.

      During the years on the merry-go-round of the foster care system I questioned: What was wrong with me? Why didn’t anyone want me? Will I ever have a family?

      These were just a few of the feelings and questions that haunted me throughout my childhood and beyond. At that time I did not realize that the problem was not me but the “system” itself.

      That is the impact and damage the foster care system caused that I had to overcome. The damage only began to be reversed when “the system” made the decision to give up on me. Yes, they actually made a decision that I was the failure and sent me off to an orphanage for boys for someone else to deal with.

      Actually, it was their failure and their sending me away, which began my redemption…the beginning of the repair that would be necessary if I were not to become what I felt I was, or what “the system” had already determined I was.

      I arrived at Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys; better known as Boys Town, Nebraska an embittered young boy, angry at the world, caring less about school, hating any type of authority. I was already well on my way of becoming just another failing statistic of the system. I would go from fifth grade through the tenth with this type of attitude.

      It appeared to me that all Boys Town wanted to do was to keep me there until I aged out of the system. Teachers passed me on from grade to grade no matter how little effort I made. By the end of my sophomore year, I ranked near the bottom of my class. It was not due to lack of intelligence but rather that I just didn’t care.

      Going to college was something that never even entered into my mind. No one was there to attempt to deal with all the anger that was within me.

      Things slowly began changing. Three people entered my life that was to have an influence upon me. They took it upon themselves to take a young man under siege in his life and teach him to reach for his fullest potential. Though all three are now deceased, they continue to influence me and will do so for the rest of my life.

      The Executive Director of Boys Town took me under his wing as I went to work for him as his cook’s assistant. We spent hours talking. He always had an open door for me when I felt I needed to talk. He provided me with a “father” figure, missing from the early days of my childhood. He went further out of his way to support me than his position required.

      As a small child I loved to argue. My tenth grade English teacher that year saw something positive in my argumentative nature. She kept me after school one day early in the school year. She talked to me about my arguing and how she saw it as ability, if it were directed in the proper way. I had no idea what she was talking about.

     She took me to another English teacher, also the coach for the newly begun Speech and Debate Team. She simply told him, “I think I have a debater for you.” Yeah, I could now argue, and get away with it!

      The debate coach, of course, let me know that with the ability to argue, I now had to prove my case. This meant lots of hard work researching the question being debated. It also meant that to be part of the debate team and go to tournaments, my grades had to improve. I was determined to do whatever it took to make the team.

      Someone finally saw something positive in me!

      I made the novice debate team that year. I was a good debater, even though rough around the edges. My senior year; I made the varsity debate team. My partner and I were, if I say so myself, great. We were rarely defeated. We traveled throughout the Midwest on weekends during the season, accumulating numerous trophies as winners of the tournaments. Our record at the end of the season was 289 wins as opposed to only 29 defeats.

      I finally felt I had accomplished something. I was worth something. I could do more with my life than the low expectations the foster care system and I had previously set for me.

      When that light bulb went on in my head, I knew I had a decision to make that would determine where my life was headed. I could sit on the sidelines of the highway of life whining about my childhood, blaming others for my failures and actually make my life a failure. Or, I could decide to say, “OK, I was dealt a bad hand at birth and my childhood had been a disaster. However, now is the time for me to travel the road of accepting the responsibility for my actions and determine my life is in my control and no one else’s.”

      It was not a difficult decision. The highway of whine and blame is a well traveled one…too crowded for my taste. I was alone in my life, no matter whether I was willing to accept it or not…I was responsible for my future. I decided to travel the highway of responsibility!

      Graduation from Boys Town is different from any other high school graduation in the country. You are not only graduating high school; you are also losing “your home.”

      At Boys Town the graduation ceremony was at 2p.m. and all graduates had to be off campus by 5p.m.Graduation meant I was now an adult and it was time for me to go out into the world and make whatever mark on it I was capable of. It meant that for the first time in over seven years, I would once again be “homeless.”

      With a few final good-byes and wishes of good luck it was time to go; time to “leave my home.” The only good thing was that this time I was not leaving home with only “a paper bag.” I was leaving with suitcases of clothes, boxes of books and mementos collected over seven years. I also carried with me a fully paid college scholarship. I had gone from near the bottom of my class to the top five per cent. It was the only way I could afford college

      There I was at eighteen with no place to go. Though I had received a scholarship to college in the fall I spent that summer in a small dirty apartment then on the streets and shelters surviving in anyway I could until fall. I was determined not to be the “failure” the system had classified me to be.

      Boys Town had given me a diploma and opportunity. The foster care system, that had moved me time and time again, gave me a letter only stating I was now on my own!

      I went on to receive a college degree. Only two per cent of those who age out of the system ever receive a college degree. I have had a successful professional career in the years that have followed.

      Facing obstacles during my childhood did not end the challenges I would face later in life. Years were needed to overcome the damage inflicted by the system: finding out at 53 of the one foster family that attempted to adopt me three times only to be turned down each time, there would be the years of searching for my immediate birth family and ultimately being rejected by them…to name but a few of them. The will to survive garnered during my childhood along with my deep faith would prove beneficial when facing each of these obstacles.

           Today I battle for reform of the system. I write articles, I speak to groups, blog and have authored a book–anything I can do to cause change in the system so youth in the system today will not face the same issues I was forced to face.

My web site: http://www.larrya.us
     

We CANNOT Afford not to Care

There are over a 500,000 children in the foster care system in the United States today, with about 123,000 available for adoption. The majority of them are over the age of four years old. Children are more likely to be adopted if they are under the age of four. The more time children spend in the foster care system, the more likely they are to display abhorrent behavior and the less likely they are to be placed in a permanent home/adopted.

Many of these children need not have been placed in foster care in the first place. Numerous cases for removal are unjustified. Problems that may have existed within their homes could have been remedied through preventative measures as simple as training or providing the necessary tools to improve parenting skills.

Once a child is removed and placed within the foster care system there is a definite lack of concern for these children within the system. It is the responsibility of the judges in each county to see that the law is followed and adhered to. The softhearted approach has left hundreds of thousands of children in limbo. That has a serious detrimental effect on their self worth, psychological, and social abilities.

The court system is not watching out for these children and acting in their best interest. This is a difficult situation to remedy. There is already federal legislation in place. I could certainly explain to you that federal government could put pressure on the state governors as they appoint family court judges. Regardless of what you hear on television and read in the newspapers, our federal government is not too terribly concerned with the children of this country. That is evident in their continuous reduction of funding for public schools and their lack of concern with this very rectifiable foster care issue, among many others.

I receive letters from foster parents around the country and the overall feeling I get from them is that they are frustrated with the current lack of policy enforcement and they are genuinely concerned for the welfare of the children in the foster care system. Foster parents are not evil people who could not have children of their own to torment. They are overwhelmingly caring families who open their home to strangers, children, who they do not find so strange.

Foster parents enjoy the privilege of caring for the children that are placed in their homes and do not wish to have that privilege taken away from them. Making a home for children who have been poorly cared for is their reward, and a very satisfying one for them. What do they say? Who do they talk to? Most foster care families fear speaking up because they fear their homes will be closed. The squeaky wheel may sometimes get the grease, but it can also be replaced. As foster families testimony and concern will be heard louder than non-foster care families it is important that they speak.

We can no longer afford not to care.

Thousands of youths age out of foster care each year across the country, many to live on their own, without the support, education or social skills to do it successfully.

“Age-Out,” is a term used that refers to children who become of legal age and are no longer required to stay in foster care, have a higher than average incarceration rate and a higher than average drop-out rate. They are adults, if you will.

What these children/adults are not, is properly prepared for their self care. “After aging out of foster care, 27% of males and 10% of females were incarcerated within 12-18 months. 50% were unemployed, 37% had not finished high school, 33% received public assistance, and 19% of females had given birth to children. Before leaving care, 47% were receiving some kind of counseling or medication for mental health problems; that number dropped to 21% after leaving care (Courtney and Piliavin, 1998).”

This is not only unfair to these children it is unfair to society. This is also directly related to the child feeling rejected, or “unwanted,” not an inability by the foster parents to raise the child. If all proceedings were initiated based on the law and in the best interest of the child, a large percentage of these children could have been placed in loving, permanent homes long before they aged out of the system.

Some kids who have lived healthy lives can’t manage on their own at 18 or even 21, but we expect these broken, emotionally battered kids to do it on their own after having left the only family they’ve known for years — the state.

“It’s important to remember that kids don’t go into foster care voluntarily. It’s not camp!” They’re there because someone didn’t do their job properly or in some cases they’re abused, neglected or abandoned. They have a whole host of issues, trust issues with adults, trust issues of others, their own sense of self, their own place and families. When they leave foster care, many of those issues haven’t been resolved.”

How do we change our foster care system, which has less than a 50 percent high school graduation rate and where substance abuse, teen pregnancy and homelessness are common, to a system that creates a majority of high school and even college graduates and where poverty and crime are no longer a trade mark of our foster care alumni? Unless our government can rely on the numerous adults in the lives of those children, there is no hope.

This is hard to imagine, since some children leave a home environment that the state has deemed unsafe, only to find them in an even worse situation. There are a minority of foster parents who abuse children, many therapists who do not listen to their young patients and professionals on every level of the system who ignore their legal duties and who choose to extinguish the cry for help instead of seeking justice. These are terrible travesties. We, as a society, should work to bring these horrors to light.

We spend millions documenting every aspect of the cars that come off the assembly line or out of the concept shop, sometimes before they’re ready. States are eager to fund new stadiums for keeping professional teams. However, the state doesn’t even keep up with the aged-out kids who fall off the state line before they’re ready, mostly without health care or adequate education or social skills. Instead, we tell them to go forth and prosper. When states get into trouble financially the first programs cuts are those affecting children.

We can no longer afford to ignore these now young adults. This must be the year when we improve the lives of children whose parents have been the State and its residents. Yes, that’s us.

Listen to them talk about making it anyway, or at least trying anyway. I dare you not to care. And when you’ve really gotten to know them, I dare you not to do something about it.

As I began work on this article, I knew that if anything were remembered of my words today, it would likely be the pain and suffering that the system perpetuates. That saddens me, for I have been that child. I have been the child seemingly lost within the system as I was moved from one home to another. I also experienced loved within the system; not from the system itself but from at least one set of foster parents.

How is it that I experienced both, a life of pain and abuse and a life of love and happiness, all within the same system? Foster care is composed of unsung heroes and unpunished villains. I still deal with the emotional pain of the negative parts of my past, but I finished high school and then college, I have a home. I can say all of those things that so many of our nation’s former foster care youth cannot because I had something many of them did not. I had a few people along the way who cared and who were able to help me to overcome obstacles placed before me by the system itself.

One of the most obvious blemishes of the foster care system is the tendency to tolerate abuse and leave excellence unrewarded. Unfortunately, when abuse is allowed to continue, it often ends up in headlines because an innocent child is found dead or nearly dead. When greatness is left untreated, however, it eventually goes away.

The system needs to reward professionals who choose to be more observant of the children on their caseloads. It is only common sense to pay attention to the individual needs of each child and meet those needs by following individualized case plans and not allowing “cure-all” answers to push aside the needs of real people. Since my eighteen years as a foster child (1950s & 1960s), there has been three huge initiatives in our country that were supposed to fix every case. For many years it was thought that a successful case should end in reunification with biological family. Only a few short years later, our federal government decided that adoptions were the real success story. Sadly, I would not have been a good fit for either of these plans. Recently a sudden burst of independent living mania swept the nation. Suddenly, there was something wrong with any young person who did not want to move out on their own at age 16. Though any professional who evaluates cases based on best interests would say otherwise, our federal government would have called my case a failure because I aged out when I turned 18.

The state took on the role as parent for children within their care. How can one parent take care of over 500,000 children individually? They can’t and shouldn’t try. There are plenty of people who want to help in the raising of our nation’s foster children. We just need to find the best illustrations of social workers, foster parents, judges and therapists that our system has to offer and when we do, we need to make examples of them for others. We need to raise the bar for anyone who might not be giving their all because they see no point in doing so.

We no longer can afford the system to fail our children. We can pay now or we will definitely pay later due to incarceration, homelessness, drug addiction and even children having children; starting the failed cycle all over again.

The system is a failure. In order to begin to change it; US, the public must get involved and demand it. These children are our future. The future to be determined by them will be what we determine to do now!

The system needs more good workers, heroic foster or adoptive parents and judges/professionals willing to make the hard decisions and base them strictly by the law. The system needs the proper funding to meet the needs of the children; not only while they are in the system but for the initial years for those who, after all has been done truly in their best interest, age out.

If we truly believe the children are our future, that all life should be protected and no child should be left behind, we must put action behind our words. To do any less makes us hypocrites and liars and our words are meaningless!

The Government and WE are Responsible

With ALL the problems in our nation’s foster-care system, nothing short of a major overhaul would serve as a lasting solution to this national disgrace. For years, children have been sentenced to navigate the system have been promised refuge from abuse and neglect in their own homes. However, without the state/county agencies being held accountable by no one, foster care remains as inconsistent, abusive neglectful and dysfunctional as many of the homes from which the children were removed from in the first place.

Without cohesion, leadership and accountability, the system continues to fail too many of the 500,000-plus children assigned to it. Once these children age out of the system at eighteen, the state sees the effects that this broken system has on society. It’s like all of a sudden you’re 18 and they expect you to be an adult, but the system doesn’t teach you to be an adult. It’s one thing to be sad about being in the system but still have a roof over your head. It’s another to be sad and homeless and unemployed. That’s what the stats say I will become.

For the 20,000 youth nationwide who emancipate — or “age out” — of the foster- care system every year, nothing is more terrifying than the number 18. It is on this birthday that these youth, many abused and neglected before and after entering the system, are expected to instantly become responsible adults. While many children outside of the system are eager to leave home at this point, their parents often serve as a safety net in times of financial or emotional need.

Most emancipated foster children do not have this luxury. They are moved from house to house, forming few, if any, long-lasting ties to any of the adults they are forced to live with. Then, at eighteen, they are instantly cut off from a system that never prepared them to live on their own.

Former U.S. Rep. Bill Gray, vice chairman of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care, aptly observed: “There are a half million human beings who could lose their potential. How many future doctors, how many teachers, how many lawyers, how many public servants are in that group? Because of instability, neglect and abuse at the very beginning of life, because of no permanency and no family, we lose what they could become. That’s a loss you cannot measure.”

There have been enough studies on the plight of foster children in our nation. Study after study has quantified the struggle for young people in the foster-care system. This is not “someone else’s problem.” The 500,000-plus children in foster care and the 20,000 who emancipate each year are OUR collective responsibility!!

The government must act now to begin to fix the broken home that they have built. The moment a child is taken from his or her home and placed in foster care, the law mandate is to either reunify the child with their family, or find him/her a permanent home through adoption. If that foster youth reaches 18 and emancipates from the system without either, the state has failed them.

Each year, the state fails approximately 20,000-plus foster youth, who, once they turn eighteen, are no longer eligible for foster-care services such as housing. During this pivotal time, many of these youth find themselves with no place to live, and no one to turn to.

Here are some statistics we fail to see. Only half of foster youth will graduate from high school. Fewer than 10 percent of foster youth enroll in college and only 2 percent actually graduate. Many foster children go through multiple placements and can attend up to five different schools. Building classrooms won’t help them. They need the guidance and support to ensure that they go to school — and graduate.

More than 25 percent of foster youth will become incarcerated within two years after they leave the system. Building prisons won’t help them.

We say we must invest in critical infrastructure. Foster care is a system whose infrastructure is a disgrace — invest in fixing it and in the children whose lives depend on it.

As responsible parents, we need to make it possible for more children to live safely with their biological families. We should revamp the federal-funding structure to channel resources into programs such as substance-abuse treatment, counseling, training, housing and employment assistance that can keep fragile families from falling apart. These changes are cost neutral; they simply reflect commonsense approaches that would enable us to use existing federal resources more effectively to support children and families in need.

We can also get involved on an individual basis one child at a time by becoming a mentor or tutor, giving foster youth reliable support from someone who holds high expectations for them and encourages them to see a better life for themselves. To mentor or tutor a foster youth not only benefits the recipient, but it is also one of the most rewarding endeavors in life, showing a young person that you care and can be relied upon, even through challenging times. Cost of mentoring or tutoring youth: An hour or two of your time each week.

Employers have the ability to offer foster youth a life-changing opportunity as well. By hiring young people living in foster care and training them for successful careers, employers provide foster youth with a critical start toward a lifetime of self-sufficiency. Cost of offering and promoting jobs or internships for youth in foster care: Insignificant!

Sometimes, tangible items can have tremendous impact on a young life. Foster youth often lack the funds to pay for an after-school computer class, musical instruments or art supplies. Items that most of us would consider basics, such as school backpacks or supplies for a science fair entry, also may be out of reach. Cost of donating to nonprofits benefiting foster youth: A tax-deductible contribution to fit your budget.

Most important of all, for those children who may not be able to remain with or return safely to their birth families, thousands are needed to open their homes and their hearts and become full-time foster or adoptive parents. The lasting commitment that results from creating a new home is one that can be pursued by couples, married or unmarried, single people and partners. Cost of creating a new, loving family by parenting abused and neglected children: Priceless!

Don’t forget these children

Why I Continue to Care about Foster Care

Many have said or asked in the past few years: The days within the system for me are long past. Today it is someone else’s problem. Why do I continue to care about what happens in the foster care system today?

Though some changes have been made to the system, it is still pretty much the same failed and broken system of my day. Thousands of children continue to have the innocence of their youth stolen from them. Many are doomed to a life a failure before their lives really have had a chance to get started.

I am of the firm belief, until former foster children regain the voice taken from them as a child and speak out, in whatever fashion they are comfortable, very little within the system of yesterday or today will change for the better. It has taken me years to recapture my voice…it will now not be silenced!

Yes, years have passed since my days within the foster care system. However, memories and reflections of those eighteen years still are at the forefront of my mind today. The trauma it caused so many times, though diminished somewhat in memory, remains in the depths of my soul.

No, they did not deter me from reaching goals in my life. I decided early on in life that they would not and went about seeing that it did not happen to me. It was, at many times, a hard and painful struggle. Despite what the system put me through…I made it!

I’ve reflected many times about my being a “paper bag boy.” Each move required me to pack my bag to take to the new home. In the 1950’s and 1960’s paper bags were used for this purpose. I remember how humiliating it was to place all your worldly possessions in a bag and still have room to spare.

Today “duffel bags” are used in may areas. Many feel this is an improvement. Yes, it is more dignified. However, one does not fully realize the damage done to a child emotionally each time he or she is told to pack their bag. Each move makes the child feel less and less of a person. One feels they are second-class and not worthy of a place they can truly call “home.” Being a “paper bag boy” damaged me but each of fourteen moves did far more damage. How can one ever justify fourteen moves by the age of eleven?

We kids, were supposed to adjust to what ever was thrown at us. Many are not in a good mental state of mind when they enter the system. We went to a strange facility, a strange family and on it goes. We could be moved at a drop of a hat and expected to adjust. Who helps us? Talks to us? Asks us “What is the problem?” No time for that! Just “put” us “somewhere”…”anywhere!” Yeah, sometimes they ask, but for the most part they just don’t care.

Foster care for teenagers is even harder to find. Issues with teenagers scare many foster parents. Teenagers sometimes run away or skip school. Foster parents often are reluctant to take on these problem children.

Adoptive parents are hard to find for older children, as I was to find out. One of the saddest things about this situation is we children realized we do not have a real family. We moved from foster parents to foster parents. This often means changing schools. Moving so frequently made it difficult to develop lasting friendships or to begin to know and trust our teachers.

School can be a scary place for foster children because we have moved so much. We longed for the stability most enjoyed as children. We wanted friends and a stable home life. Often we felt left out and different at school.

How can a society expect a child to grow up feeling good about themselves if every few months or years they find themselves being moved again. This is done with no explanation ever being given to the child. I considered myself a failure with no self-worth by the tender age of eleven. It would take five years to just partially overcome this feeling with the intervention of a few people who went out of their way to fully show they cared and felt I was worth saving.

I was one of the fortunate ones. With the help of a few, I was able to overcome, in time, the damage that had been done to me. Today there continues to be a constant flow of children aging out of the system who are not as fortunate as I was.

Each move also seemed to bring a new social worker along with it. It made me wonder why. Why did it seem person after person gave up on me? Why didn’t there seem to be a permanent placement in store for me? What was wrong with me? Did anyone really care? These are not the questions a young child should be asking themselves. The rapid turnover of social services caseworkers is one of the problems with foster care. After a few months, many change jobs. When a caseworker resigns, children can get lost. The stress of the caseworker job makes it hard to endure for very long.

>From what I have memories of, it seemed I was placed in decent foster homes in most instances. Maybe my memory has done me a favor by forgetting possible bad experiences. The one bad experience however has enough horrible memories that I don’t need others. However, as with society as a whole, one would expect to find a bad apple or two in the barrel.

Again, it was not the families, in most cases, that served as my foster parents that damaged me…it was the merry-go-round of moves themselves.

Though each of us are responsible for the decisions and actions we make in our lives and must bear the consequences of them, I wonder if, in many instances, those decisions or actions would have been different for many if it had not been for their foster care experiences.

One never fully leaves the system. It remains a part of you throughout your life. Much of it remains deep within us never to be revealed to others. We, many times, keep it inside so as not to have to relive the heartache and pains of our youth. But they still remain a part of us. It can play a role in our ability to have loving, trusting relationships with others. For many it plays a determining role in decisions that will affect them throughout their lives. Though we must each be held accountable for our decisions, I also feel society needs to also bear some of the accountability for those poor decisions.

Children are very fragile. They want to be loved so sadly that they will do whatever they are told just to cope. Inside they are dying. They are not able to form who they really are. How could they?

If you really want to know what a foster child thinks, look into their eyes, the story is right there.

DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES I JUST WANTED A HUG AND SOMEONE TO SMILE AT ME, LOOK ME IN THE FACE AND TELL ME I WAS WORTH SOMETHING AND I WAS GOING TO BE OK???

If society expects children to grow up to be mature, productive members of society, they then must see that each child is given the appropriate tools needed to achieve that goal. Instability caused by moves, inability to trust those responsible for your care only causes reaching the goal extremely more difficult if not almost impossible for some.

Another of the major problems with the foster care system is simple: an underlying premise that biological families are better than adoptive families. We must protect the family at any and all cost. Reunification is the priority goal whether it is in the best interest of the child or not. The biologicalparents have rights while the child who is being neglected, abused or abandoned has none. The children are left the voiceless and the forgotten.

I did not have a biological family to be returned to since I was given up at birth for adoption. Still the records show no real strong effort to have me adopted. When a family came for three different times to adopt me they were denied for reasons that were definitely not in my best interest. I am the rarity today of those placed in foster care… not the rule. Today, most are placed due to dysfunctional families who have either neglected, abused or abandoned in one fashion or another. A growing number of kids go into the foster care system and never get out. And the worst is the misperceptions of the foster care system and the belief that only bad kids end up in foster care.

Most people think of foster children as messed up ghetto kids who are looking for just the right benevolent parents who are willing to devote their lives to helping these special needs children.

This perception does explain the reason so many people who want to adopt normal children choose to spend their life savings for lawyers and private adoption agencies, rather than taking advantage of the immense adoption systems, set up and run by so many government agencies. However, that perception and subsequent reaction only creates more problems.

Every year, thousands of children are either abused or abandoned by their birth parents, (who are not really parents but merely womb donors and sperm donors) and subsequently end up in foster care. These are usually wonderful children who only need love and caring to have a fantastic and normal life.

Most children are in foster care absolutely through no fault of their own except being born to parents unable or unwilling to care for them in the fashion that they have the right to expect!

Yet the system seems to prefer biological reunion over adoption. Why else would they go to such extreme lengths to preserve these dysfunctional family units? Why else do judges willingly send children back to the Hell from which they came, over and over again? Why would normally sane people risk the lives of innocent children simply to keep children with their biological parents? Why would anyone think it healthy for a child to visit each week with the man who raped them, or the woman who held them in a scalding tub of water, or the parents who beat them to unconsciousness? The answer is simple: because biology is better than adoption. “Says Who!?”

Now, all we have to do is convince all the lawyers, judges, lawmakers, social workers, and therapists that their premise is indeed very, very false. Once we make a reality, the premise of the family court system to “Always do what is in the best interest of the child!”, we will be on our way to a sane and just foster care system. This is spoken of today as it has been for years. Ask the children in care and they will respond it, “It is a joke, a myth…not reality!

Imagine how many people would be willing to become foster parents if the system actually protected the children? People aren’t afraid fostering these children. People are afraid that they will be forced to send a child they love back into the arms of a monster. The question all judges should be asking themselves is this: “Would I let my own child spend the weekend with these people?” If the answer is “No,”then NO child should be sent to live there. Children’s lives should not be sacrificed just to maintain biological connections.

There are so many supposed legal rights of children with far too many loopholes. Then there are the legal rights of the parents…the system gives them too many chances to try to make it work and to better themselves and return to being a family. It takes time to go through rehab and I think it is pushed way too fast for the sake of time, money and looking good on the books.

Many children come into the system initially at an early age, and without the problems they have by the time they are finally (if ever) adopted. The longer they are in the system, the more problems they are likely to develop. Yet the length of time a child is in the system continues to get longer. The only thing they get better at is moving. Most foster children can pack everything they own in the world (toys, clothes, and all their worldly possessions) in today’s “paper bags,” and usually do on a regular basis.

The longer kids are in the system the more problems they develop. The more problems they have, the worse the reputation that foster care kids get. The worse the reputation foster kids have, the fewer the number of people who adopt them. The fewer people who adopt them, the longer kids have to stay in foster care. The longer kids are in the system the more problems they develop. And so on, and so on!

The problem with the foster care system is this vicious circle.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in family and the values of it. So if they can come back together, GREAT! But the time frame is not long enough, due to the systems restraints and the kids take the brunt end of it. There is way too much tolerance of the adults, who should know better, and of course some will say “Well, they were abused.” or “Well they should know better themselves.” This brings up the adult mental state of mind and another string of pros and cons.

So why do the kids take it in the shorts? Children are not punching bags and they do have feelings!!!

Children deserve a much greater protection under the law than adults because they are not capable of defending themselves. And yet, they receive exactly the opposite, less protection! Can you imagine a man beating his wife to within an inch of her life, and then a judge saying to this woman, “Well, since your husband has successfully completed ten weeks of counseling, I order you to live together again as a family unit. We must protect the family at all cost!” He would be removed from the bench. Yet, time and time again judges do this to children!

Social workers, lawmakers, judges or anyone in the position of making decisions regarding a child removed from their home need to ask the questions: “Would I let my own child spend the weekend with these people? Would I allow my own child to remain in this situation or be returned to this situation?” If the answer is “No,” to any of these questions then “NO” child should be sent to live there. Children’s lives should not be sacrificed just to maintain biological connections.

The reluctance to terminate parental rights is destroying far too many lives in this country. Until our judicial system realizes that the act of conception does not automatically give anyone the right to be a Mommy or Daddy. These titles must be earned. If they are not, no child’s life is worth the time it takes to find out if an abusive or neglectful person can turn things around, and eventually become a parent. Few ever do, and the ones who do may start a family when they are ready to do so. In the meantime, the results of their first attempt at parenthood should be living a happy, productive life with real parents.

There are children in foster care that should have never been placed there in the first place. Being poor or of low-income are not justifiable grounds to have your children removed. As long as parents are able to provide the basic needs of their children in a safe, clean setting while being nurturing and loving, the children should remain in their home. If a parent needs some parenting classes, this can be done while the children remain in the home.

The system should be offering help to families in need. Many families benefit from these services. Many families need help in times of crisis.

However, when someone inflicts unspeakable physical, emotional, or sexual pain upon a child, they do not deserve the chance to do it again.

Child Protective Services also must be extremely careful when allegations are made against the parents, whether it be the children, family members or neighbors. Too many false allegations get reported today. Too many parents are left having to prove their innocence rather than CPS proving their guilt. It is a tough balancing act but caution is the word!

People who care about children must be vocal about protecting foster children.

We must remember that these kids are our future. They need time and nurturing to develop as people. We must be cautious and inform them in terms at their level of the things that are affecting their lives.

In the end we foster children grow up just like everyone else, but our thoughts and attitudes are very different when it comes to many things. Some of us grow up with much hatred of life in our hearts and never adjust. Some of us grow up addicted to drugs, alcohol, pain, sex and etc, etc., Feeling that is what we deserve, since after all, our parents didn’t love us. Finally some of us get lucky. We realize that what we were given as a child was a bad break. We realize that life is ours for the taking, we must make the best of ourselves we can. The key is to forgive those who have abused us in the past, they are human, keeping that always in mind humans make mistakes.

We deserve the best. Life is a choice and nothing is handed to us…nothing is free and with that in mind, we grow into productive adults.

This is a subject very close to my heart. There is so much to be said and done. I pray for the system and do what I can. I thank God that there are many that have already stepped up to the plate to fight for reform of the system.

OK now you say, “Larry it takes time.” I know that but how much time do the kids have??

The system, yesterday, today and the future is still the system…a system…which is badly broken!

It has gotten worse, but it also has gotten better. There are so many variables that could be brought up that would scare the average person. The government rules for each entity are so involved and is full of red tape. That is why most folks give up.

I will say this again though and you will have to pardon my repeating of myself. We all have to go back to family values. What is a family unit? The family has taken a step back in priority in many peoples lives today and the end result is what is happening. Now before someone goes off, let me clarify one thing, it is not easy making a judgment call whether a child is returned to its biological family or a foster facility and I for one never want to have to make that call. I am not saying it is always done incorrectly, but the child has to be given the utmost attention at any given decision.

Do you really know what they are thinking, feeling or needing? And most would like to say or ask. “HELL NO, They don’t care!” They don’t take the time and that is one thing that gripes me to no end. This child is supposed to just adjust, ask any questions, act upset or act up and if they do they can be pulled and shoved someplace else.

I may be an adult now, but I have fought every inch of the way to be where I am. I had to go without food, sleep on an unheated porch, be sexually assaulted and live through many other things that are not important now…I made it.

That is why I am who I am today. Trust me when I say, take nothing or no one for granted. I never gave up, because I wanted to be better. I had few advocates in latter later years in the system that used to tell me; “They cared about me, I was worth something and that I must always remember that.” You have no idea how many times I had to keep repeating that to myself in mind and heart when I finally heard it until I believed it.

I was on my own at eighteen and I have made my share of mistakes, but that is OK…I hope I learned from them.

My point is look at these children, look at your own children. Love them, talk to them, hold them, look in their eyes, let them feel secure. I don’t care if your a volunteer, advocate, friend, family…you are a human being and all these kids really want is love and security !!! DON’T YOU ??

Security is within yourself and you have to teach all children that, no matter what, they have themselves and they will be OK. If we don’t teach them, life will teach them some hard lessons.

As for the system and its placing children, protecting them, don’t make me laugh. I am so sick of kids being used as punching bags, sexual gratification for perverts, verbally beaten down, starved for food and attention and some killed in the process. If you see it, report it and keep reporting it.

Each of us are responsible for children, whether they be our own or not. We have a responsibility to see that all decisions made for them are made in their best interest and not what is convenient for society. When we see children being wronged, we must speak out and see that corrective action is taken. I hear and read from many about how bad the foster care system is and how thankful their children are that they did not have to endure it. However, I do not hear or read, in many cases, them doing anything about it. If we are not part of the solution, then we are also part of the problem. Until we ALL demand action by those in charge of foster care or any program dealing with children…we must hold ourselves accountable along with them.

The system has come along, but there is so much more needed. The louder the voices, the better. It has to start at ground level and go to the top!

The following are a few suggestions to get you started:

1. If you are a healthy person, consider adopting an older child. The rewards will be numerous.

2. Consider becoming a foster parent if you are a patient, loving person.

3. If you know someone who is caring for a foster teenager, offer to help with homework or to mentor the teenager.

4. Teach your children to be very helpful and friendly to all new students in their school. Learning empathy will serve your children well in life. In addition, these new students who might be foster children will feel much better about school.

5. Volunteer in a nearby school to mentor students who are foster children.

6. Write to your legislators and tell them about the need to protect foster children.

7. Talk to social service agencies and plead with them to hire caseworkers who work with foster children that are caring, competent people.

Having been a child whose life was impacted negatively by the foster care system; I do hold myself accountable to do all that I can to change the system that harmed me and continues to harm thousands of children yearly.

I will continue to campaign to help kids in the system. The first is to try, whenever I can get an audience or a willing ear, to speak and write on the subject.

I will use any means available to change the archaic laws, which put so little emphasis on the children’s rights.

I implore anyone who believes in children having the right of a caring, loving, nurturing home and “real” parents to join me in this fight

Will YOU?
 

Final Letter to My Birth Mother

Prelude to the letter…what generated it:

Our relationship over the years following the initial meeting was strained at best. We had never developed a mother/son relationship. Of course, I had not expected that, since at 36 I did not need a mother to raise me.

The relationship we had developed would be destroyed Christmas night 1998.

I had spent Christmas Eve with friends in Fargo, ND and got up very early the next morning for a 13 hour drive to Chicago, IL. My half-sister Claudia lives there with her family and my mother was visiting for the holidays. My sister thought it would be nice for us to spend one holiday together. I arrived in the evening weary and tired from the drive. They had waited Christmas dinner for my arrival.

Claudia, for some weird reason, has a television in her dining room and leaves it on during meals…even Christmas. During the meal a news story came on about GAYS/AIDS. I had never told my mother I was gay, as we did not have the close relationship I felt was needed to share that information. Claudia did know.

As the news story ended, my mother blurted out; “IF I HAD A SON THAT WAS GAY I WOULD WISH HE WOULD GET AIDS AND DIE. I COULD NOT BEAR HAVING A GAY SON!”

Claudia gasped and hollered “MOM!”

My heart felt as though it had been broken and stomped upon a thousand times. I got up from the dinner table and quietly but clearly said; YOU DON’T NEED TO WORRY ABOUT A GAY SON, YOU JUST KILLED HIM.” I walked out from my sister’s home never to see my mother again.

When I left, I checked into a hotel; a 48 year old man spent Christmas night crying himself to sleep. This is how my mother found out her first son is gay. My mother had “given me up” for a second time in my life. This time it was not due to her strict father, nor her inability to care for a child…now it was simply because her son was gay. She not only gave me up…she wished I were dead!

This letter was written to her three days later. It was sent back to me marked “return to sender.”

December 28, 1998

Dear Mother~

This is a very difficult letter for me to write as tears are still in my eyes for my heart is broken.

I never thought I would hear with my own ears the words you expressed on Christmas Day.

I know our relationship in the twelve years since we reunited has not always been a good one. In honesty, I know at times it has been quite strained.

Despite this strain I believe we both have some very cherished memories as well.

I thought, this being our very first Christmas together, would provide yet another of those cherished memories…instead my heart was broken.

I have known pain in my life, but I don’t think I have ever felt the pain I now feel. There I was on Christmas night, in a hotel room alone, crying myself to sleep. The pain has not lessened in the few days that have followed.

Sixteen years ago I began a search for you. It was a long, trying and at times painful search…but it ended in success.

I had another long, trying, painful search in my life. The search for and acceptance of myself.

I began questioning my sexuality at a young age. However, I knew what was going through my head went contrary to everything I had ever been taught. I did not want to be what I thought I was. I fought it every way I possibly could. I went with girls thinking that it would cure me of my thoughts…it did not. I went to counseling in hopes it could steer me straight…it did not. I even went to a priest friend for help…all he did was condemn me to hell.

The thought that I could be gay tormented me throughout my high school years into college. I tried to find solace in a bottle. This only temporally released me of the pain.

The anguish became so torturously painful for me that I thought there was only one way for me to end it…that was to end my own life.

I tried and failed. Failing however gave me the opportunity to meet a wonderful counselor. She made me realize that through all these years of pain and torment I was only denying who I was. I was not choosing to be gay…I was born gay. I should accept and be proud of the person I was. She said many other things in the times we shared together but this was the beginning of the healing I had so long searched.

Yes, Mother, I am gay. No, I did not choose to be gay. Who in their right mind would make such a choice? A choice that could cause a life of possible verbal or physical assault, loss of friends or even loss of family.

I have already suffered three of the four, now I face the possibility of the fourth.

I am who I am Mother. I cannot be anything but who I am.

However, I am still the same person I was just moments before you uttered your hateful words. I am still the son you gave birth to…only now you are aware of one more part of my being.

Being gay, does not make me any less loving son than I have been. It doesn’t make me any less the person you were once proud of.

I know this has come as a shock to you. I don’t expect you to understand it nor even condone it. I only hope that you can accept it and accept me, not as your gay son but as your son that happens to be gay.

I have accepted you, your good points as well as those I do not agree with…I only ask the same in return.

Many years ago you were faced with a decision. I know how painful that decision was for you. The decision you made was due to the circumstances you found yourself in of which you were not in control. You made the decision to give me away for adoption. It was a decision which you thought was best for me. You would not know what that decision caused me in the years that would follow. However, I have never held that decision against you.

You now face that decision once again. This time you are in total control of the decision you make.

Are you going to give me up as your son a second time?

This is your decision and yours alone. This time you need to do the searching. You need to search within yourself and decide can you or can you cannot accept and live with the fact that your first born son is gay.

I know what you said on Christmas Day. I can only hope and pray that it was not what you truly meant. Do you really wish I would get AIDS and die? Would you really be happier to have a dead son rather than a son that is gay?

We have overcome many obstacles during the past twelve years. It had not been an easy road for either of us at times. We are both stubborn and hard headed at times…but hey, those are traits I inherited from you. This obstacle too can be overcome…but it is your decision!

I can forgive if you can accept. I don’t believe that is asking too much from either of us.

We missed so much in the years we were apart. No matter how hard we try we cannot make up for those years. We were, however, given a second chance. A chance to experience things I thought would never be possible. I don’t know how many years we may have to continue our second chance…are you willing to throw whatever those years are away?

We have missed so much together already, I would hate for us to miss so much more.

I cannot force you to decide anything. It is your decision to make. Again, I can only hope and pray it will be a decision that will allow us to spend more time together.

I don’t know, as I write this, if you will in fact read it to its conclusion. I don’t know if you do in fact read it, you will end up crumbling it up and discarding it without giving me a reply.

Whether you reply or not, whether you in fact already consider me dead…I want you to know the following:

I remain glad I took the time and effort to find you. I am glad we were able to be reunited. I am glad we had an opportunity to have some cherished memories. I am glad I have been able to call myself your son.

No matter your decision, I will always be your son. Your decision will only determine if in your heart and mind if I am a son alive or am I dead.

I await your decision.

Your Son you may choose to give up a second time,

Larry
What followed after this letter:

Despite my mother’s words, I hoped and prayed and attempted over the next almost three years, that some degree of reconciliation between us would occur.

She suffered a stroke in 1999. Reconciliation did not happen between us and death took her October 23, 2001. My mother died a very bitter and lonely woman.

However, with her death I knew there was still some unfinished business that one day would have to be faced.

Over a year passed since my Birth Mother’s death when I came to the full realization that her death left a gaping, bloody, festering, open wound deep within me.

Her death had denied us the opportunity of reconciliation, though there had been no evidence in the previous three years that this might happen.

Her death had denied me a final opportunity even to speak my mind to her as to how her words during our final meeting had been like a dagger to the heart.

I cannot say I wanted an opportunity to forgive. I felt then that my Birth Mother had committed the unforgivable. There was no reason for needing to forgive her for giving me up for adoption for that had been a very wise and loving decision. However, how can one forgive another who after twelve years of a relationship wishes you dead only because you are gay? 

I, however, knew I needed to do something to allow this open wound to close and begin to heal. It will never completely heal but a scar can at least allow one to move on.

In an effort to reach out to my Birth Mother shortly after that devastating Christmas of 1998 I sent her the letter above. It contained exactly how I felt from that experience. It contained the story of the struggle I had gone through, including attempted suicide, to accept myself for who I was. It contained my hope of a reconciliation between us. It did not ask that she approve of my being gay rather just that she accept me as she had that day back in 1986…as her son, whether I was gay or not. That letter came back to me marked, “return to sender.” I kept that letter through the final years of her life and in the time that had passed since her death.

This was only one of several attempts to reach out to my Mother for a possible reconciliation. There were attempted phone calls…she only had to hear my voice and she would hang up.

Birthday and Christmas cards were sent by me those last three years only to have them also “returned to sender.”

The most painful, brutal reality for me to deal with were the attempts by my half-sister to reach out to my Mother on my behalf were also rejected. About a month before my Mother’s sudden passing Claudia shared with me that she had again attempted to get my Mother to either accept a call from me or make the call to me herself. My Mother’s words; “He’s dead leave it be!”

It appears though I was not physically dead that in my Mother’s eyes and heart I was in fact dead and would no longer be a part of her life.

A month later she herself was dead.

So the question after her death became; How can I move on without forgiving?

It took over a year of deeply emotional times contemplating this question. The answer would not come easy. It was an answer however that I knew I had to find for my own emotional well being and for healing to begin.

Suddenly the answer came clear out of the blue…you need to let it go! I knew right away how I hoped to accomplish this.

I very much enjoy biking. I have in my hometown discovered a place I enjoy going to…Eagle Point Park.

One early Saturday morning in June, 2003 I set out for that place on my bike. I had with me the letter I had sent my Birth Mother four and a half years earlier.

Throughout the park are hideaways where one can light campfires. After biking awhile I found one spot that was hidden away more than others where I might have a needed time for privacy.

I built a small campfire. I took the letter and held it for a few minutes, then opened it. I slowly unfolded the pages as the emotions welled up inside me. I started to read the letter aloud…Dear Mother!

As I read each line , paragraph or page the tears streamed more readily down my face, the voice cracked more often and the body trembled almost beyond control. I was determined to finish the letter for I had to have my say. I continued on until the closing salutation…the Son you may choose to give up a second time, Larry!

When I had finished reading it I placed each page, one by one, upon the campfire and watched as the flames began to devour them.

As the smoke ascended to the heavens I verbalized the words, “I am now letting go.”

I had read the words I had written my Birth Mother to her and was now sending them up to her to do as she wished. I had finally been able to say all that had been stored within my heart to her. I would no longer allow myself to be burdened with the baggage she had placed on me. I WAS FREE!

YES, in that moment I actually did forgive my Birth Mother. I will never forget those wounds she had inflicted upon me. I, however, would no longer hold onto them. I gave her words as well as mine back to her. I had finally let go! I could move on! Everything was now in her court where it belonged.

I had a few months earlier written to my half sister that had given up the relationship we had prior to our Birth Mother’s death. It had been a last attempt to reach out to her just as I had done our Mother. The letter did not come back but neither had she responded.

When I felt comfortable with everything involving my Mother I took a blank sheet of paper to symbolize the last letter to my half sister and placed it also on the fire. I was also letting go of her as well.

I continued to watch as each page turned from paper to ash.

When it was obvious that there was no more to burn, I doused the fire with the water bottle I had brought with me. I then gathered up the wet ashes and carried them to a secluded spot amongst the trees. I dug a small hole and placed the ashes with it. I then covered them with the dirt and some brush found nearby.

I had not attended my Mother’s funeral but on this day I had my own private one. I buried not only ashes of my letter but also all the pain and anguish caused by her and in doing so I believe I also buried my Mother.

I slowly walked away from that spot. I could feel the gaping wound was already beginning to get just a bit smaller. The healing has begun.

I did not hate my Birth Mother for what she had done. I in matter of fact remember her in prayer. I pray that in death she has found the peace that she was unable or unwilling to obtain in life. I also still thank her for giving me the opportunity of life.

Rest in Peace Mother…I FORGIVE YOU!

A Search Guide for Birth Parents/Adoptees/Foster Youth

I created this special tips blog for adult adoptees, birth parents and some foster children, as I am a strong proponent of “open records.” I believe every person has a birth- given right to know who they are and where they and their ancestors come from.
If states will not pass open records laws for adult adoptees, they should have the right to search if they so choose. I do not believe this right should be extended to minors.

I also include foster children because of my own situation. I was placed for adoption at birth, but instead ended up in the foster care system until I aged out at age eighteen. I had been totally disconnected from my birth family. Sometimes a foster child’s search can be as difficult as an adoptee’s.

I wish many of the tips I am including here were available to me at the time of my own search. However, despite my limitation, my search was successful.

The tips listed below are not listed by importance, only you can determine which might be important to you and what priority it is given.

TIPS
1. Create a search journal. This may assist you in keeping track of the steps you have taken in your search.
2. Discuss the search with your adoptive parents. They may be willing to assist you in your search or be able to provide you with necessary information. Remember to let them know that you love them and your need to search does not, nor will not, affect your relationship with them. This will help them to not feel threatened by your need to search.

3. As early in your search as possible, if you have a computer with Internet access, join adoption and genealogy newsgroups and/or support groups. They cannot only provide resources to search, but may also offer moral support during your search process.

4. Locate your amended birth certificate. Write your State Office of Vital Records for it.

5. Obtain a copy of your final decree of adoption. Write the court that finalized the adoption for it.

6. Obtain your petition to adopt. The same court that finalized your adoption should have this as part of their records.

7. Contact the adoption agency that placed you to obtain non-identifying information. You may possibly receive information you might not expect.

8. Contact the law firm or attorney who assisted in your adoption for the same reason as above.

9. Contact your delivery physician again for the same reason as above.

10. File a waiver of confidentiality with the adoption agency, law firm and courts. This will allow your information to be released to a birth parent or sibling in the event they are searching for you.

11. Apply for medical records from the hospital where you were born ONLY IF you have the name of your birth mother and/or father. Adoption should not be mentioned as you may find this avenue immediately closed to you.

12. Attempt to retrieve your original (pre-adoption) birth certificate. You may not receive it, but you have nothing to lose by requesting it.

13. Formally petition the court to open your adoption records. To forward identifying information, the court will need a reason. An example would be a medical reason. Unfortunately this has not proven very successful, but again, an avenue to try.

14. Register with the International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISSR). Also, if the state in which you were adopted has an adoption registry, register with it. This allows the registry to release information if family is looking for you.

15. Check both county and state records for marriage or divorce records for either birth parent. If you know the names of your birth parent(s) this will be a very useful tool, especially if your birth parents were in fact, at one time married.

16. Learn about the adoption laws for your state. Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse.

17. Check county or state death records for birth parents and both grandparents. This record will include who provided the information on the certificate, as well as the funeral home involved. The funeral home could provide you names, addresses and possibly phone numbers of survivors. Requesting my paternal grandfather’s death certificate, on a hunch that he was deceased, is what unlocked all the doors for me in the search for my birth mother.

18. Send for a copy of Where to Write for Birth, Marriage, Divorce, and Death Records available from: Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.

19. Write to Adoption Regulation Unit to access your adoption records.

20. Order a copy of The Guide to Genealogical Records in the National Archives from: The National Archives, Washington, DC 20408. You will also want to check the tips I provide for genealogical research, as some of them could be useful to you.

21. Find maps for the area where you are searching.

22. Create a profile of the hometowns or regions where each of your birth parents is said to have been from.

23. Create a list of all the libraries in your area and the areas where you are focusing your search. They will be a good source for finding obituaries for family members who may be deceased. The obituaries will list survivors which may lead you to your birth family.

24. Check local newspapers from where you were born for birth announcements. Your local library usually has old newspapers going back several years.

25. Check local newspapers from the area where your birth parents were born for their birth announcements.

26. Check local newspapers for wedding and engagement announcements for your birth parents.

27. Check in old city directories to try to locate your birth parents or other relatives. These can be found at many local libraries or historical societies. I tracked my maternal grandfather for over thirty years using this resource. When his name suddenly disappeared, I then requested a death certificate from the state.

28. Check in city directories to match an occupation to a name. Some older city directories actually listed companies where people worked. Finding out where my paternal grandfather had at one time worked led me to my birth father’s sister and eventually to my birth father.

29. Cross reference city directory information year by year.

30. Check in city directories to locate old addresses of birth parents and possible neighbors. Former neighbors of a birth parent may be able to tell you where they might be now.

31. Check phone books and national telephone directory discs for birth relatives.

32. List yourself in the telephone directory of the area where you were born, and in the area where you live now. An unlisted number could lead to a dead end for someone who might be searching for you.

33. Check any possible surnames against a book of name deviations.

34. Speak with your local librarian. They will prove to be invaluable in directing you to many of the resources in this guide.

35. Locate all churches of the faith of your birth parents in the area where they were living at the time of your birth and where they may live now.

36. Check local churches in the area where you were born for any baptismal, marriage or death records.

37. Check local churches in areas where you believe your birth parents may have resided for their baptismal, marriage, or death records.

38. Join a local or national search and support organization, and sign their registry if they maintain one. Support of others during the very stressful search process will prove invaluable to you and they may also be able to provide tips and clues for you to use. One group that proved very helpful during my search was ALMA (Adoptees Liberation Movement Association). Most major cities have a local chapter.

39. Create your own library of search and reunion books.

40. Advertise in adoption search magazines. Be sure to list your “birth name” if you know it as well as your “adoptive name.”

41. Advertise in newspapers where you believe your birth parents may now reside.

42. Order a copy of How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military 1-800-937-2133.

43. Contact old neighbors for forwarding addresses and other possible information.

44. Visit old neighborhoods in person to locate past acquaintances of your birth parents.

45. Check with former employers about possible forwarding addresses of birth parents.

46. Check old high school and college yearbooks in the areas of your search.

47. Check with high school or college reunion chairman about the current address of a birth parent or request a list of entire class.

48. Contact a private investigator or consultant. I suggest this only if all else leads to a dead end. Investigate any investigator before hiring them.

49. Request from the court that finalized your adoption the appointment of a Court Investigator. The CI will attempt their best to locate a birth parent or sibling. However, they will only be able to provide non-identifying information directly to you. They will ask you to write a letter to the person found without identifying information. All communication will be through the CI. Only if the person found agrees to have contact made can the CI then assist in a reunion or the exchange of identifying information.

50. Leave no stone unturned…you never know where you might find the gold nugget of information you have been looking for!

Might I make one more suggestion? If you find your birth parents and a reunion is planned here is an idea for a gift. Make a book which might include pictures, any news articles of accomplishments and possibly a letter about you, why you searched and that you are happy you located them.

When I met my Birth Mother for the first time, I gave her a red rose for each of the thirty-six years of the life she had given me. As I left her suite at the end of our first day together, I gave her “my book” so that she could read it privately after I left. When I met her the next morning she greeted me with tears, a hug and a thank you. Despite how our relationship ended twelve years later, I believe that book is something she treasured for the rest of her life. She passed away in October 2001.

This guide of tips does not guarantee success. It is a tool to use in your search and not an all inclusive one at that.

I hope you will find it useful and I further hope your journey will in the end meet your goal.

Was Search for Birth Family Worth It?

Having done a successful search for my birth family, but a not so positive reunion…I still say the journey was worth it!

I began my journey years ago after suffering a heart attack at age thirty-one and having to answer the embarrassing question from the doctors about family medical history with a, “I don’t know.”

I was placed for adoption at birth, but ended up never being adopted. In the first eleven years of life I was moved to three institutions and eleven foster homes before finding stability at Boys Town, Nebraska.

Though I was fortunate to have my birth mother’s name from the start of my search, it still took four, long years of searching before she was located…it would take another four years before I found my birth father.

My birth mother was an alcoholic and still years after my birth, harbored the hatred toward her father for forcing her to give me up for adoption. Her life had not been an easy one. I believe she also resented the fact that my life turned out better than anything she could have been able to offer me, such as a college education and good career.

She had four more children after me. She did raise those children and was unable to offer them the opportunities I had been given.

My birth father ran when he found my birth mother was pregnant as he had done once before while serving in Germany during W.W.II. He had one more child after my birth.

Neither reunion was a positive one. After twelve years my birth mother gave me up a second time because I am gay. She wished I had never been born and that I would die of AIDS rather than her having to bear the burden of being the mother to a gay son.

My birth father was always distant and cold. I only met with him once for an hour out on his back patio.

Both have since died.

My five half-siblings rejected me.

I was able to thank my birth mother for at least giving me life and also thank her for her decision to give me up the first time. Her decision was a wise one.

She also was able to provide the needed medical information.

She provided just enough information for which I have after several more years of searching, been able to locate extended family and spent my first Christmas with a number members of my “real family” in 2002. This Christmas past I met yet another twenty-eight entended family members. They have welcomed me with the openess and love my immediate birth family could not.

I have also discovered my heritage and have been able to trace my great, great maternal grandparents roots back to Poland.

Yes, it took years of searching and yes, the reunions were not all positive. Yet they provided the answers I was looking for and finally answered the main question of WHO AM I?

I went into the search expecting little to nothing to result…I found far more than I could have ever expected.

I share all this to let you know…despite the ups and downs of the journey…I found the journey was worth it and I would do it all over again.

If you are considering a search you may have fears as you search, but don’t let them stop you…even if you end up with a rejection or a negative reunion…you will end up a far stronger person…I know I did.

Hopefully, during your search, you will find that as you grow as an individual, you will also become stronger and develop realistic expectations for what you may discover during your journey.

If you have made the decision to search, please remember these few items of advise:

1. Think about the reasons you want to reunite with your parent, child or sibling.

Remember, they have a family and so do you. You can’t turn the clock back or expect to fill the role that you have not played all these years. You are adults, strangers with genetic ties, coming together to build a relationship. Be realistic about the role that you feel you can play in their life and vice versa.

2. You must go into the reunion with realistic expectancies, not fanciful hopes.

If you make someone out to be perfect, you are guaranteed to be disappointed. People get hurt when they have unrealistic expectations, and those expectancies are dashed. These unrealistic expectancies can set you up for failure. It is not what happens in people’s lives that upsets them, it’s whether or not what happens in their lives is what they expected that upsets them. Don’t allow yourself to think that everything in your life will suddenly be resolved overnight once you reunite, or you will be let down.

3. A reunion is an event, but the relationship is a process that needs time to unfold.

You have to really work to build a relationship and you have to be patient. Start out with the goal of finding something that is comfortable for everybody, and don’t put any pressure on yourself.

Allow a natural evolution of things to take place.

Like all relationships, expect your relationship with the person you have reunited to go up and down. Your best chance for having a good relationship long term is to take it slow and move at a measured pace. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Be patient and let it unfold naturally, so that it will be lasting. You don’t want to do anything that would cause this coming together to separate you again.

Why Search for Birth Family?

Why search? Why not leave the past alone? What do you hope to gain from your search? These were just a few of the questions asked of me during the course of my search.

Most questions came from people who were raised by their birth parents. They knew their heritage. They had extended family to share their lives. They knew of potential medical problems that might arise in their lives.

They had no understanding or appreciation for those of us who have gone through life, without any of the above or the void it left within us. They do not know what it would be like not to have any of the above.

My search went far beyond even my wildest dreams.

The question still is; WHY? Why did I go beyond the original intent of getting simple medical information? Why did I want to find my birth Mother? Why did I ever want to meet her? Why did I want to know my roots? Why take twenty years spending great amounts of time, energy and money researching my family history? Why look for living members of an extended family?

Every child, at some point, questions who they are, where they came from and so forth. Most are able to have the answers easily provided by a parent or other member of their family. Adoptees or many children of the foster care system, such as I, do not have that available to them. For adoptees in particular, of my generation, it is denied them by law. We are expected to go through life never knowing the answers to those questions. Many are even ridiculed for entertaining such questions.

I searched for the answers to all those questions because I am like any other normal individual. More importantly, I had the right to know! I searched first for information; then to fill a void in my life. I would like to think if the search had ended with just information, I would have been satisfied. Of course, knowing all I do today, it might not have been. Each person searching needs to know when enough is enough for them.

My search had its ups and downs. My initial search to just find the information needed to locate my birth mother to get medical information, took four years. It would take another four years before I would find and meet my birth Father. They have both since passed away. During that time, I had to learn how to be a detective; to ask questions, that to most would have appeared stupid. I even had to learn to lie to just get the information I wanted.

I found my birth mother, my birth Father as well as siblings. None were very cooperative in answering my questions about family health, heritage or genealogy. If they had been, it might have saved me sixteen more years of research.

I have now found most the answers to my questions. The void that was in my life has been filled. I now feel I am a whole person; I know who I am and where I came from. I am now in the position that children raised by their birth parents are in. I no longer have to feel different or abnormal. I found far more information about my family genealogy than I ever expected to. I found and met members of my extended family. I can now see in pictures family resemblance’s and say…see I belong! In learning about my great grandparents, aunts, uncles and Polish people as a whole, I learned, in so many ways, why I am the person I am today.

My search was satisfied when I was able to sit with my birth Mother and find out the true story of my birth; the gut-wrenching decision she made to give me up, and why; my true Polish heritage and the vague medical history that would allow me to better care for myself. I would have been satisfied if she had just provided me these facts in a letter and not agreed to meet me. I would have had the basic information I desired.

The fact she agreed to meet me, despite how our relationship turned out, was above and beyond what I had hoped for or expected during my search. Of course, because I found out I was Polish and because my grandfather was ashamed of this heritage, I continued my research to find out as much as I possibly could about my family. I wanted to know why and when my ancestors came to America, what they did with their lives… I wanted to be proud of them. I have achieved that goal.

My only real regret is that I waited so long before I began to search. If I had begun at age eighteen or twenty-one, I might have been able to meet many aunts and uncles who were still living at the time. By the time I did begin my search and found all eleven children of my great grandparents, they were deceased. What a missed opportunity on my part.

I have been privileged to get to know some of my extended family and they have added so much to the picture. Through them, pictures and stories have been shared with me. You can only imagine the intense feelings I had when I saw the pictures of my birth parents, great grandparents or other family members or the first time; the feelings when I walked through the homestead my great grandfather built with his own hands 112 years ago; the feelings when sitting with an 89 year old first cousin and hearing stories of my great grandparents, her mother, aunts and uncles or the feelings when being able, at the age of 52, to spend my FIRST CHRISTMAS with family I could call my own.

This is why I searched. The desire to be made whole. The desire to know, that even when your birth parents may reject you…you still are a part of a family and a heritage. I had a good life prior to beginning my search and have done well during the search. The end result of my search just has made it better.

Twenty years ago, I knew nothing of my birth mother, my heritage or my family history. Today, I know more than I had ever expected to be able to know. Even though I feel I have had a successful life to this point, it is only today that I can declare…I am whole! I finally have a sense of belonging, of knowing who I am. I am finally proud of who I am, where I came from and of those within my family who came before me. I am proud to be able to proclaim my heritage is Polish!

This is why anyone would search.

Why, when millions around the world who were raised by their birth parents do genealogical research to learn more of themselves and their heritage is it considered normal? When an adoptee or person in my situation does the same its considered abnormal? Seems hypocritical to me!

I firmly believe ALL have the right to know who they are, where they came from, family heritage and genealogy, no matter the circumstances under which they came into this world.

It is OUR information locked behind vault doors and we have a right to it!

First Letter to Birth Mother~

Baby Larry

Baby Larry at 3 days old…taken at hospital nursery to be placed in the “Babies Available for Adoption Book.

A letter I wrote to prepare to send to my birth mother if I found her. It was not necessary to send as I found her and we connected via a telephone call.

Dear Mother~

 It was a decision of a lifetime, that with what was known and felt at the time, was a proper decision. I will not judge you. I will never tell you what you did was wrong. It will never be my place to say. I was not mature or old enough to know.

Never say you are sorry; never tell me that what you did so many years ago was wrong. I know in my heart that if you are like I know myself, it was what you thought was the right thing to do.

I will not confront you. I will make this as easy and safe for us both as possible. I just need to know that you are alive, what life has been for you since we parted. I may not have enough time to find you before you depart this life for a better one, but know that my prayers are with you.

I will defend you and your decisions in life as any son would. I will hold your memory true, even if all I know is your name. I will never defile your name, your circumstances or your decisions in life.

I know that I too have made many mistakes, but I have no regrets. Each mistake has made me a better person, turned me a different direction, and made me care more for life than I ever would have before.

If you feel guilt, I will tell you that I feel that you should not harbor any. I have led a good and fulfilling life that I am proud of. Your decision has made my life today what it is. True, it would have been different, but I cannot say it would have been either better or worse. I am a product now of what I have lived and experienced.

To you, mom, I pledge my gratitude for giving me all that I have. I have lost nothing now. Now that I know who you are by name; the only thing I would ask in addition, is to know you. I have many of your attributes. I hold every thought of you to be precious as gold.

I do not know what you look like; I do not know what you sound like. But to me, you are my guardian angel and have helped me through life without conscious awareness of you. I know you talk to me. You always have. You pray for my safety, happiness and well-being.

For the last 32 years, we have been connected. Sometimes I listened to you, sometimes I didn’t. You are my “gut”, my instinct, my heart and my thoughts.

Tonight I raise my glass in praise of your bravery, your life, and all the decisions you made.

Cheers to you mom. You did well.

Your Son

Questions for My Birth Mother

This was written from the time I began searching for my birth mother until her death…a period of over 20 years.

 Did you know what it was you gave away?  What was it
to you?  Was it a mistake perhaps that could be erased
by a simple act of false generosity. 

Was it easy for you or did you lay awake at night
tormented by the few options life had left for you? 

Was there a sense of great relief or regret when I was
no longer a part of your life? 

Did you look back as you walked out the door? 

Were you alone in the final hour?  Did you regret the
decision when it was over? 

What does it feel like to lose a part of oneself, not
to death, but to a future of unknowing? Were there
tears of joy, or sorrow, or both, or neither?

Did I cry?  Did I understand the totality of the
decisions made on my behalf?  Did I latch on to
anything that was willing to comfort me, or did I know
you already in my inner being and long for you with an
invisible bond?  Do you know what I felt when you
left?  Not even I can know the pain of separation from
a love at that vulnerable age. 

You were my first love and my first lost love.  Truly
a tragedy to have learned one of life’s most difficult
lessons at hours old. 

Was it similar to the loss of my first love when I was
a teenager, or even worse?  The body protects itself.
Perhaps to truly feel that kind of loss would cripple
my capacity to function. 

You gave up a lot. I have struggled to like myself
throughout the years.  Rejection in the conscious life
allows you to rationalize ones feelings and soften the
blow.  It is easy to see both sides of the story, and
make excuses for what might have been.  

But my first rejection came when I was without a
defense.  I cannot blame myself for I did not know
myself, and to blame one’s mother seems too painful.
Blame sits by itself in the middle, no one wanting to
look it directly in the eye.   Later on we all take
small pieces of this thing called blame.  There is
enough for small pieces to be taken for a lifetime and
more. 

There is not hate, but an open wound of unknowing. 

If you knew me would you do it all over again? 

I have part of you with me.  Only you could identify
what it is that I carry.  Is it the way I smile, the
way I cry, the shape of my eyes? 

You do not carry a part of me.  You have only memories
of a baby who was losing the life support it
desperately relied on.  How sad that your last memory
of me was on the surface, perhaps a health happy baby,
but on the inside was a spirit whose very soul was
being ripped apart. 

If my heart knew then what I have felt over the years
in my inner self, I would have died that day.  A body
cannot take that kind of pain in a single blow. 

You probably thought you did what was best for me.  I
have no way of knowing, but life cannot be compared to
what is and what could have been. 

Life with you ended when I was removed from you, but
the pain of your anguish as you decided to give me up
was not in isolation.  I felt you touch me
differently; hug me differently, as if this was a
guilty hug and kiss, not an embrace that is filled
with the wonder of things to come. 

Was I wanted in the womb?  When you felt me growing
was it like watching a beautiful flower develop with
the anticipation of the final glorious bloom, or was
it a dreaded anticipation of weeds overtaking a
well-tended garden. 

Was I a prisoner in your womb taking in all of your
despair and anguish? 

What went through your body and entered my sacred
home?  Was the foundation of my marrow a blend of
happiness and optimism, or was my body at its very
soul begun with despair, fear, regret, and
embarrassment? 

To answer this question I must know that moment, in
your deep unconscious when you knew, really knew, that
I would not be yours, but given to another. At that
point my psychic connection to your psyche felt a
rift.

Was there a slight tremor, shock, or disturbance that
alerted me to set up a defensive wall.  When was it,
before I was born or at the moment of my birth?

At what point did the focus of my life turn from
drawing in as much love and goodness as I could, to
defending my inner being from pain.  Can you do both
at once?  I know I can’t. 

Did you look down on me with loving eyes, longing
eyes, or eyes of sorrow?  When I looked into your eyes
did I see love or loss?  Were there tears of joy or
sorrow? 

I would have known the difference, must have known the
difference because all I saw and felt were the eyes
and tears.  No other distractions interfere with the
need of a baby to connect with the soul if its mother.

I saw the tears and hollow eyes.  I transported
through my look into your eyes my need for you and
what I got back was not acceptance but resistance. 

Have you ever wanted something so bad and felt with
your whole being the need to encompass that thing?
This is what I believe that I had when I was born, a
tremendous desire to belong, and a sense of attachment
to the security of love. 

How long can a person go without a sense of security
before natural defenses go into place?  One minute,
one hour, one day, one week, one year? 

I lost that from you somewhere between my development
in the womb and your decision to give me to another. 

Was my birth a final cleansing of your body of all
that was sad, disappointing and degrading?  Was I
purged and then removed from the last connection to
you as the umbilical cord was cut? 

Was there ever a connection after that, or did I go
from being a part of you into a world void of
attachment.  Did you reach for me as I was covered in
your blood and fluids, or did you look to the side and
sigh with relief that I was finally out of your life.

I was not chosen. You choose ripe fruit, fresh fish,
and a good car. Chosen is an excuse for abandoned.

I had many foster parents. However, none adopted me to
save me from a life without parents, but they in most
cases did all they could do.

They tried to love me, nurture me and did the best
they could with a damaged soul. You can restore
some of the harm done to the soul of a child, but you
can never replace it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the foster parents could have
put into my spirit the excitement, desire,
anticipation and deep love for my life ahead. They
were too late. By one day, by one week, by nine
months, they missed the opportunity to influence a
virgin spirit.

The holes in my spirit must have been many, and one
set of foster parents filled many of them, but you cut
me too deeply in parts.

The surface healed, but the deep wounds fester every
once in a while. Those are the times, like now, that I
wonder who I am, what I might have been, who you are,
and if you know what you gave up.

Now I am an adult. The turmoil of my youth is behind
me though forever ingrained in my memory. Today I can
make my own decisions.

Should I look for you? What would I find?

You are forever a young beautiful woman in my mind. I
never picture you pregnant, and wonder what that means
if anything. You are always thin, without child.

I think of who my mother is often, but not my father.
I do not know why I am not drawn in the same way to
know who my father was. I knew you!

I don’t know what I knew, but I knew you enough to
want to know more. I don’t want to find an old mother
who has gone through life.

I want the mother that was young and optimistic and
whose future I could have shared. Perhaps that is the
fantasy, to go back and find the person and relive
life.

I missed you, I needed you, and I have now begun to
look for you.

I search, hunt, inquire, but have hit so many
roadblocks along the way.

There is a deep need in me, a need to be wanted and
loved. You failed at meeting this need early on, and
for me to look for you is painful.

If I find you, the wounds will remain but just maybe
you will be able to answer  the ever-festering
question of why you didn’t want to know what you gave
up.

I have known loss. My foster Mom and Dad died in
recent years and it has deeply saddened me.

That loss is deep, and reserved only
for those who we have truly known and loved. To feel
that too often would be overwhelming.

That is the problem with my pain for you. I feel it
over and over again. You are at the core of my very
being.

I will only lose my foster Mom and Dad once. I lose
you every time I search for you and fail.

I don’t know if finding you would make any difference,
but I do know that not finding you continues a cycle
of hope and pain that is demoralizing and weakens the
fragile self that I am. You surely gave up a lot.

I thought more about the need to think of you as a
young person in the prime of your life. It is because
when I think of you, I see myself as a child, not the
man that I am right now.

If you were young again you could take me back. Then I
would grow up with the smells of your hair and body,
the energy and radiance your body gives off and the
pattern in your eyes that is unique only to you.

To see you as an older person means to admit that you
have stuck with your decision and I am finding you
after the rejection. To find a youthful mother means
there is a possibility of reversing the tides,
and erasing bad memories.

Will I ever be able to see you as an older person who
is in their 40’s, 50’s or 60’s? I don’t know.

I thought as I grew older I would see you age
as well. This hasn’t happened yet, and I guess it
probably never will. I can’t imagine what other life
event could change your picture in my minds eye other
than seeing you in person.

My birth father has yet to make a big dent in this
stream on consciousness. Did he stay with you? Did you
have other children? Did he see you as a mistake
and leave, making the same assumptions about me?

My only way of knowing my father would have been
through your interactions with him. Was he loving and
kind, or distant and insecure? When he touched you
with me in your womb, if he did, was there a fusion of
love that I may have felt, or was there a charge of
anxiety and sorrow? You both gave up a lot.

I was in you, and lived as you did for nine months.
How much of whom I am today is determined by those
nine months I will never know, but I do know it has
something to do with who I am.

I remained in a nursery for almost a year after you
left. I of course have no memory of it, but the nurses
were my surrogate mother. Out of necessity I bonded
with them. Felt their arms around me, focused on their
eyes and began to attach.

But this was not to be my final security blanket. I
was taken from a second love, and placed with one
family after another.

We know from experience that it is best to leave baby
animals with their mother until they can be weaned and
are more stable. I guess this logic doesn’t apply to
children who are moved from family to family at an
indefensible age where ego and vulnerability are
wide-open wounds.

I lost my first love, and then my second love all
within the first year of my life. What does the body
do to avoid pain? It had autonomic reactions and
functions that perform unconsciously.

Starve a body of food or water and it goes into
crisis mode and begins to preserve what it has in
storage. Starve a body of love and a maternal
connection, and what does the body have to fall back
on in storage at birth. I guess nothing.

Perhaps the womb experiences, but those are weak at
best. My gut tells me that foster kids are in an
unconscious state of self-survival where their
very existence and identity must be at risk from the
very day they lose their mother.

Years of searching have come to an end. I have found
you, met you and have gotten to know a bit about you.
I have not felt the elation I dreamed so often I would
feel.

I did not find the young, beautiful woman I hoped you
would still be. I found a older very embittered woman.
I found a woman whose mind, heart and soul remained in
1950 while her body moved forward with the passage of
time.

While, tough not easily, my life marched forward you
remained stationary in life. You were filled with
hatred towards your father, my father and even me. You
allowed this hate to swallow you up in self-pity and
control every step you took since that day long ago.

We never developed the relationship I had searched
for. I didn’t search for a mother as those years of
need had long passed us by. I hoped for a friend in
whom I could share my inner most thoughts and
feelings…a friend of whom I could ask those many
questions that still yearned for answers from my
childhood.

For twelve years I struggled and fought for a
relationship with you beyond one that I would deem an
acquaintance though connected far beyond. You fought
me every step of the way, making sure there was a
certain distance between us.

You never asked questions about my life. Anything
shared was at my initiative. A few times you seemed
interested while most times you stared in a distance.
 
To most of my questions of you; you either changed the
subject or gave as little as possible.

At one point I took your statement of, “I wish you had
never been born, my life could have been different,”
as how you truly felt from the depths of your heart.
You blamed what turned out to be a life of misery for
you on everyone but yourself. We were all the reason
for your failures…even when we were not present when
you fell.

Despite all this I continued, in every conceivable way
I could muster, to strive to get beyond the day we
first met and build a relationship with you.

The fatal blow came on that Christmas night too
painful still to reflect upon.  Though you bore me
within your womb for nine months you could not bear
knowing the son you gave birth to as he is. You wished
me dead because you gave birth to son that happened to
be gay.

The abandonment of childhood you had no control over,
this time you did. You were in complete control and
knew exactly what you were saying and doing.
All the wounds of childhood were again opened wide as
if freshly inflicted. Nothing I said or did caused you
to change your bitter heart.

That bitterness and hate filled heart went with you to
the grave a few short years later.

Now you will never truly know the son you gave birth
to nor will I know that mother you could have been.

Do I sound angry or wounded?  Do you sense that I
hurt?  Do you really care?  Who you are?

I am.  I think.  I breathe.  I have become.  What have
I become?  A whole person made up of many parts.

I became without you. I must now continue to become
without you. We both have lost!

My web site: http://www.larrya.us

When, When, When?

This is a question I painfully lament almost everyday.

When are the “so called experts” going to wake up to the fact that, they in their supposed infinite wisdom, DO NOT have all the answers? Neither are they knowledgeable of all the questions.

Today’s, as in the past, child welfare system is run by those who feel they are about infallible. They feel because they have a degree in a certain field that this qualifies them to make all decisions regarding families and children. Many of those decisions are made in total disregard of “the best interest of the child.”

This runs from the politicians, judges, state or private child welfare agencies as well as many non governmental agencies.

Many of the “textbook experts” are just that…textbook experts! Their knowledge is gained strictly from a book. They feel a MSW or other letters behind their name is all they need. Many of today’s child welfare system workers are fresh out of college; they have no life experience of their own yet they make decisions affecting others experiences.

Bear in mind; I know there are good, qualified people within the system. They do their best to make decisions in the best interest of the child. Many times they are doing a thankless job. However, I feel they are also the minority and not majority.

The system fails to realize they are relegating their greatest expert resources to the sidelines.

Who better to look to in determining the success or failures of the system than those who live within it each and everyday; whether by choice as a foster parent or forced due to circumstances as a foster child?

Their expertise is not found within the covers of a textbook. Their expertise is gained by living it twenty-four/seven! They have to live with and know the impact of decisions made by the textbook experts.

For the past several years I have been inspired daily by the children of foster care and foster parents I have met in person or on line and the stories they have shared with me. These stories of trauma, loss and resilience have taught me that one of the most damaging experiences for any child in foster care is being bounced from one home to another without their ever having a voice in the decision.

These children and foster parents can be powerful teachers. If we choose to listen to them we can create a compassionate, honorable and safe experience for them. We can offer them what we would want for our children by birth, our nieces, our nephews, our neighbors: kindness, compassion, respect, true understanding and humane treatment.

At fifty-seven years of age and one who lived within the system for eighteen years I still remember the words and I remember the faces of those in charge of the system…those responsible for my welfare.
I remember some of the foster parents, the teachers, nuns and priests at the orphanage called Boys Town. I remember those who made me hopeful and those who stoked my despair.

I, and thousands like me, lived, survived and overcame years of living within the system. We had to bear the brunt of decisions made supposedly on our behalf as we did not have a voice.

Yes, I am one of those former children of the foster care system. From birth until I aged out at eighteen I had no say so in any decision made about me. Others made the decision to move me fourteen different times by the age of eleven. At no time was I ever asked how I felt about a move, how the move might be impacting on me. Even when a charge of abuse was made against a foster mother, I was not asked if it happened. If I had been; the answer would have been a resounding NO! It was only discovered over forty years after the incident that it had been a lie made by another child to cover other things up. I, however, bore the brunt of the lie without ever been asked about it.

When one family, who cared for me three different times, attempted to adopt me also three different times they were denied. I was never asked if I wanted to be with this family, was the family good to me or any other questions. I was held voiceless in these decisions made by others that would impact me not only through childhood but well into my adult life.

Much of what I describe from my childhood years in foster care unfortunately is not a thing of the past; it remains very much so today.

Foster parents, in many instances, are also held voiceless. Though the system feels them qualified to be temporary parents to a child they treat them as servants rather than as part of a team. It is they that care for the child 24/7. It is they that know how things are impacting on their young lives. It is they that, many times, have their lives revolve around a system worker’s schedule of things to their convenience rather than to the foster parents’ schedule. It is they that who are told “don’t get too involved” yet it is only natural they fall in love with the child for whom they are providing care. It is they that are the “true experts” yet their suggestions etc. are held to be of no value by the “so called experts.”

It is time the system fully takes advantage of the resources that are available to them. Talk to, listen to, and heed the advice given by….foster parents and former or present foster children willing to offer help. Their expertise was not learned in a textbook…it was gained by living it!

I believe many of the “experts” know we are operating a broken system. My advice; before making reforms based on textbooks, go to the real world…foster parents and foster children. You will be amazed at the real education you will achieve!

Hopefully someday soon the “When, When, When question will be changed to: Can you offer some input? How would you do this? What impact would this have? These would be just a few new questions that would tell us that the “so called experts” have finally reached out to the “life experts.” I don’t think it is too much to ask. 

I guess the final question is…Do the “textbook experts” have the guts to admit they don’t in fact know it all and reach out? If they do, they will find willing hands reaching out in return.

Who Are Foster Parents?

I believe I am quite qualified to answer the above question. I was raised within the foster care system of Michigan from birth until I aged out. By the age of eleven I had been placed with eight different foster families, one family I was placed with three different times. Though I have very few memories of most the families, as I was too young, I have enough to know who the vast majority of foster families are.
 
Let me tell you who they are.

They, the overwhelming majority, are not the monsters some people think they are. They don’t do it for money, or for fame, or for people to look at them or notice them.

They don’t do it to be popular or to be noticed by other people. Neither do they do it to obtain a privilege or a gift, or just for pity.

They are not the bad people of the system.

They are the ones that open the door of their home to what it is at that time just a story told by someone on the other side of the phone; just a faceless child in need.

That’s all they know, just a story of something that shouldn’t happen, but it did happen. A thing that no one wants to hear or think about it, but that they choose to live with because an innocent heart has been broken. A heart whose only “sin” was to ask to be loved by mom and dad, but yet (in many cases) were punished, tormented or crippled by those that were supposed to love and protect them.

They are the ones that cry alone when it’s time go on with life and feel in their own flesh, because after all that is what their heart is made of, the pain of the physical, emotional, sexual and any kind of abuse that a child has suffered. The only answer they can offer in answer to the tear from an innocent heart that just asks why, is just another tear from the bottom of their heart.

They are the ones that many would like to see disappear and not disturb their lives and tranquility while they are eating in their favorite restaurant. Their eyes tell them that neither they nor their children are welcome for whatever reason. They don’t say it out loud, yet their eyes scream from deep inside their souls. Screams that foster parents have learned not to listen to; where were they when a child cries because its tummy was empty and all one could hear was the sound of an empty stomach.

They are the ones that are there when it is the child’s first time on many things you will probably think are warranted for every human being. Yet they were not for many of them.

They are the ones that raise their voices and begs for help and understanding, for patience and caring, for wisdom and temperance, for gentleness and goodness, for meekness and for mercy.

They are the ones that just asks anyone that would listen to have faith in those who has been suffering for (the children) as long as they have been in this world. They wish to only give joy, peace and love to those whose mother sometimes just look them straight into their eyes when they were just born and told the nurse take it away, I don’t want it because I don’t love it.

Some are thrown in the trash can, some are tied like animals, some are hit with just about anything, their bodies forever will bare the marks of the bonding and torture, some are mentally abused in ways that they would prefer to just die than rather live, some are sexually abused, some are doped, while others…you get the idea!

They are not their foster children, cause for as long as they have the blessing of having them in their home, they are their sons and daughters. Their children and they treat them like their own even though they were not born in the family; they bless foster parents lives with their smile. That is a reward that will be with them, in their heart, for as long as they live. For them they are angels for they am not forgetful to entertain strangers because without being aware of it, they have entertained God’s angels.

So the next time you are going on by your business and you see this couple with a Latino child, with an African-American child, with an Anglo child, an Oriental child, along with a baby from any corner of this Earth, don’t stare at them like they come from another planet. Don’t think it was a wild night for one of the two; don’t go over your racial issues, or just hope they go away because they are too noisy.

Trust me they don’t need any of that nor are they going to go away. You will do yourself a favor as well as a favor to them if you just look at them straight into they eyes and thank them for what they are doing.
Trust me, it will mean a lot!

They are Foster Parents for whom we should all be grateful they choose to do what many would not…love, care for and raise a child or children not of their blood.

They, the foster parents, are the backbone and heroes of a system in dire need of reform. If it were not for the foster parents even more children would be lost today than are already lost. Yes, as with all segments of our society, there are bad apples in the field. However, they are in the very small minority.

I thank God for families so openly and willingly opening their home to us…the throw away kids of our society.

Do You Wonder?

Written while searching for my birth mother from 1982-1986. She was found, we reunited for a time. She passed away in 2001.
 

When you wake up in the morning, do you wonder where I am?
 
When you pour a cup of coffee, do you wonder if I like mine with cream?

When you step into the shower, do you wonder if I can swim?

When you look at your reflection, do you wonder if I see the same?

When you kiss your husband goodbye, do you wonder if I am married?

When you sit down at your desk, do you wonder what I do?

When you order pastrami on rye, do you wonder if I’m a vegetarian?

When you drive your car home from work, do you wonder if I take the bus?

When you check the mailbox, do you wonder if there’s a letter from me?

When you set the table for dinner, do you wonder if I like to cook?

When you watch the evening news, do you wonder if I’m at war?

When you see a falling star, do you make a wish for me?

When you lay your head on the pillow, do you wonder if dreams come true?

And when you wonder me, do you wonder if I wonder you?

Maybe

This was written one night after a person challenged why I was searching for my birth family at the age of thirty-two having never been raised by them.
 

So this is what I know. I was given away when I was born. That’s the cold hard truth. Call it relinquished if you’d rather, but the facts remain.

Maybe I was wanted and loved, maybe I was resented and a terrible burden. Maybe I brought joy to somebody’s life for the five minutes that she held me and still cherishes that memory to this day. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I was born on time. Maybe I was early. Maybe I was an easy delivery. Maybe I wasn’t.

Maybe I look just like my father. Maybe a little brother out there is a computer enthusiast, too. Maybe my mother is tall like I am. Maybe I’m German or Irish or Danish. Maybe I would have grown up in New Jersey or Florida. Maybe my father likes to sing. Maybe a little sister that I’ve never met is afraid of heights and thunderstorms. Maybe my father loves scary movies and maybe my mother cries when she feels overwhelmed.

Maybe I was taken from my mother against her will and she never recovered. Maybe she was talked out of having an abortion and has regretted her decision ever since.

Maybe my mother and father are married. Maybe they only met once. Maybe I broke them up. Maybe they miss me. Maybe they don’t.

Maybe I have brothers and sisters. Maybe I have an uncle who shares my dry sense of humor. Maybe I have an aunt who loves to cook as much as I do. Maybe my mother loves to read her Bible. Maybe my father is generous to a fault. Maybe someone else in my family is a writer. Maybe my sister is oversensitive. Maybe my brother is stubborn.

Maybe I’m a dirty little secret that no one would even dare speak of. Maybe my mother has been desperately searching for me for years.

Maybe my mother has long thick hair. Maybe my sister is diabetic. Maybe my brother loves Mexican food. Maybe my father dreams of going someplace tropical and maybe he’s already been. Maybe my mother likes to read. Maybe my father likes to sit alone outside and look at the stars

Maybe my mother died in childbirth. Maybe she’s in perfect health today. Maybe she doesn’t know who my father is–and maybe he died 5 years ago.

Maybe I would love them at first sight. Maybe we’d bond immediately. Maybe I’d rub my brother the wrong way. Maybe my sister and I would be the best of friends. Maybe my mother would break down and cry tears of joy. Maybe she would reject me all over again. Or maybe, I would reject them.
Maybe I’m nothing like any of them. Maybe we’re just alike. Maybe I’ll never know.

Maybe I should just be content with knowing things worked out as best they could. Maybe I shouldn’t care about my past. Maybe I could stop caring if I knew anything at all about it.

So there it is: a whole lot of maybes and one cold truth. Maybe I’ll find out the answers someday. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll be happy with what I find. Maybe I won’t.

Either way, I’ll have the answers to the questions that so many people take for granted every single day. I’m not wrong for asking and I have the right to search until I find them. And THAT is what I know.

Reflections of a Foster Youth

Over the past several years many have asked me: “What
was it like being a foster child?” “What was the
impact on me having been a foster child for my entire
youth?” “How did I overcome the many obstacles placed
in my path due to having been a foster child?” “What
advise would I give to children within today’s foster
care system?”

I would like to take this opportunity to attempt to
answer those questions as honestly and openly as I
can.

Please bear in mind that though one may leave the
foster care system; the system never fully leaves you!
Today I am still dealing with some of the impact the
system had on me years ago.

“What was it Like Being a Foster Child?”
 
I was relinquished at birth supposedly for adoption.
However, I was placed within the foster care system
where I would remain for eighteen years.

I was bounced from place to place; a total of fourteen
times in eleven years. I sometimes slipped through the
cracks and got shuffled around unnoticed and
forgotten.

I was always living on the outside looking in. I
thought when I was little everyone is the same; only
to find out I was treated different, not because of
who I was but rather what I was.

I lived in a world of never knowing; where I would
live, who will take care of me, where I would go to
school. I never knew if I will ever be secure again,
where home is or where I belonged.

I rarely had friends as I was seldom in one place long
enough to make them. I didn’t know what it felt like
to attend the same school more than a year or so.

One is always movable once you have no home to call
your own. A home is not just a place to lay one’s
head. A home is where you can stay, where you can be
comfortable, where you know and will always be safe
and secure.

Once I got used to all the moving and different
schools I somehow find within myself a space to
furnish as I would my room, finding scraps of things I
could embrace.

Then I could at least become comfortable knowing I was
alone, knowing I would be the only one who is going to
look out for me. I became known as a loner. I depended
on nobody but myself, yet this causes more problems.

I built up brick walls and didn’t let anyone in. Once
the walls were in place it took so much to take them
down. If they start to come down and something happens
I would put them back up higher than they were before.
Each time I got hurt the walls got higher and higher.
I lost so much time keeping those walls up high and
strong.

Yet I had no trust, no bond and it makes it hard to
build a relationship. If I was lucky enough to find
someone who was willing to fight for me, I still could
not totally depend on them, which hurts them. I saw
the hurt in their eyes, which in return hurt me even
more. The hurt only causes more pain and starts the
walls going back up or we run and keep on running,
from one relationship to another.

My childhood is almost impossible to trace. It was
only years later and many years of research that I was
able to begin putting it together.

I was an enigma tangled up in a mystery. I was the
lost puzzle pieces swept under the rug. I was a
missing link in a chain of life. I had no roots. I was
like tumbleweed blown in the wind calling home where
ever the breeze took me. I was a chameleon changing
colors to blend into my surroundings.

My losses were etched upon my face and within my eyes,
pain for which no penance can atone. How could I be
forced to move and move from place to place?

At eighteen I was moved once again, the fifteenth
time; basically thrown out on the streets as the
system “washed their hands of me” whether I had gained
a support system or not. I was now considered an adult
and on my own…it was up to me to make it or not.

The system lets one raise themselves and a few get
lucky, have people that care and help them along the
way. The difference between those who make it and
those who don’t can be as simple as one encouraging
word at the right time.

Yet, somehow despite what I had been through, I
survived with a peculiar grace, even though my heart
should have turned to stone as I was moved about from
place to place.

This is my life of eighteen years within the foster
care system!

“What was the Impact?”

The system was responsible for providing my most basic
needs as a child. By basics I don’t mean simply
shelter and food. To me the basics are a stable home
life, knowledge that someone actually gave a damn
about me, self-worth and most importantly, the ability
to trust those responsible for me! They did not even
come close to achieving them.

As a child, all I ever truly wanted was a place to
call home, a family to love me, someone to call me
SON! I don’t think I desired too much…one family I
could love and call my own…not fourteen temporary
residences! Because of the system, those simple
desires NEVER became a reality!
How did I feel during and after my years in foster
care? I felt pain, like a nobody, unwanted,
depressed,, in constant fear of what each new day
might bring, worthless, a failure, second class I have
felt alone, I have felt depressed, I have felt that no
one understood, I have felt no one really cared about
me and yes; I have even wondered if it was worth
living…to name just a few. 

During the years on the merry-go-round of the foster
care system I could but ask questions. What was wrong
with me? Why didn’t anyone want me? Will I never have
a family?

These were just a few of the feelings and questions
that haunted me throughout my childhood and beyond. At
that time I did not realize that the problem was not
me but the “system” itself.

That is the impact and damage the foster care system
caused that I had to overcome. The damage only began
to be reversed when “the system” made the decision to
give up on me. Yes, they actually made a decision that
I was the failure and sent me off to an orphanage for
boys for someone else to deal with. Actually, it was
their failure and their sending me away, which began
my redemption…the beginning of the repair that would
be necessary if I were not to become what I felt or
what “the system” had already determined I was.

“How Did I Overcome?”

At age eleven I experienced my fourteenth move. It was
to Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys; better known as
Boys Town, Nebraska. I arrived there as an embittered
young boy.
I was angry at the world. I cared less about school. I
hated any type of authority. I was already well on my
way of being just another failing statistic of the
system.

I would go from fifth grade through the tenth grade
with this type of attitude. It appeared to me that all
Boys Town wanted to do was to keep me there until I
aged out of the system. Teachers passed me on from
grade to grade no matter how little effort I made. By
the end of my sophomore year, I ranked near the bottom
of my class. It was not due to lack of intelligence
rather; “I just didn’t care.” Going to college was
something that never even entered into my mind. No one
was there to attempt to deal with all the anger that
was within me.

Things slowly began changing. Three people entered my
life that was to have an influence upon me, not only
then, but for the rest of my life!

Msgr. Wegner, then Executive Director of Boys Town,
took me under his wing during my freshman year of high
school as I went to work for him as his cook’s
assistant. We spent hours talking. He always had an
open door for me when I felt I needed someone to talk
with. He provided me with a “father” figure, missing
from the early days of my childhood. He went further
out of his way to support me than his position
required. He lived his faith by example.

Even as a small child, I loved to argue. If it were
night, I would argue it was day…anything for an
argument.

My tenth grade English teacher that year saw something
positive in my argumentative nature. She kept me after
school one day early in the school year. She talked to
me about my arguing and how she saw it as ability, if
it were directed in the proper way. I had no idea what
she was talking about.

She took me to another English teacher, also the coach
for the newly begun Speech & Debate Team. She simply
told him, “I think we have a debater for you.” Yeah, I
could now argue, and get away with it! The debate
coach, of course, let me know that with the ability to
argue, I also now had to prove my case. This meant
lots of hard work researching the question being
debated. It also meant that to be part of the debate
team and go to tournaments, my grades had to improve.
I was determined to do whatever it took.

Someone finally saw something positive in me

I made the novice debate team that year. I was a good
debater, even though rough around the edges. My senior
year, I made the varsity debate team. My partner and I
were, if I say so myself, great. We were rarely
defeated. We traveled throughout the Midwest on
weekends during the season, accumulating numerous
trophies as winners of the tournaments. Our record at
the end of the season was 289 wins as opposed to only
29 defeats.

I finally felt I had accomplished something. I was
worth something. I could do more with my life than the
low expectations the foster care system and I had
previously set for me.

When that light bulb went on in my head, I knew I had
a decision to make that would determine where my life
was headed. I could sit on the sidelines of the
highway of life whining about my childhood, blaming
others for my failures and actually make my life a
failure. Or, I could decide to say, “OK, I was dealt a
bad hand at birth. My childhood had been a disaster.
However, now is the time for me to travel the highway
of accepting the responsibility for my actions and
determine my life is in my control and no one else’s.”

It was not a difficult decision. The highway of whine
and blame is a well traveled one…too crowded for my
taste. I was alone in my life, no matter whether I was
willing to accept it or not…I was responsible for my
future. I decided to travel the highway of
responsibility!

Graduation from Boys Town is different from any other
high school graduation in the country. You are not
only graduating high school; you are also losing “your
home.” This graduation meant I was now an adult and it
was time for me to go out into the world and make
whatever mark on it I was capable of. It meant that
for the first time in over seven years, I would once
again be “homeless.”

The graduation ceremony begins mid-afternoon on a
Sunday and the rule is that ALL graduates must be off
campus by 5 p.m. It was time to make room for new
boys.

With a few final good-byes and wishes of good luck it
was time to go; time to “leave my home.” The only good
thing was that this time I was not leaving home with
only “a paper bag.” I was leaving with suitcases of
clothes, boxes of books and mementos collected over
seven years.

I also carried with me a fully paid college
scholarship.  I had gone from near the bottom of my
class to the top five per cent. It was the only way I
could afford college

Boys Town had given me a diploma and opportunity. The
foster care system, that had moved me time and time
again gave me a letter only stating I was now eighteen
and on my own!

Two teachers and the home’s late Executive Director
took it upon themselves to take a young man under
siege in his life and attempt teach him to reach for
his fullest potential.
This was all accomplished because these three people
took an interest in me, saw something positive within
me and did whatever it took to bring it out of me.

I went on to receive a college degree. Only two per
cent of those who age out of the system ever receive a
college degree.

I have had a successful professional career in the
years that have followed.

“What Advise Would I Give to Children Within Today’s
Foster Care System?”

You may feel like your life is in turmoil. You may not
be in a place you really consider your home, or you
may be awaiting a final decision on a new place to
call home.

At times, you may feel like you are all alone in the
world, and that no one else ever has or is now going
through what you’re facing. Your foster parents and
caseworker have probably never been in foster care, so
how could they possibly understand? Most of the time,
your feelings are not true!

However, I can understand many of the things you are
feeling…because I have been exactly where you are
today. As many young say today, “Been there…done
that…bought the T-shirt!”

I was a foster child from the day of my birth until I
aged out of the system at age eighteen. There is very
little you could share with me that I myself have not
experienced.

You are not as unique as you think you might be. In
matter of fact there are many thousands who, besides
me, have been exactly where you are at.

I am here to tell you that you can overcome ALL of
this.

I do not know why you are in foster care. It might be
the same as me…from birth. It might be because of
troubles within your home that require you to be out
of your home for a short or long term basis; it may
even be because of something that you did wrong for
others to feel you needed a temporary outside the home
situation or finally it might be that you are awaiting
a new family to become your Mom and Dad.

It does not matter why you are in foster care. What is
important is how you come out of foster care!

I know many aspects of the foster care system makes
you feel that you might be of no value; that you
cannot be a success and many other negative
attributes.

This is absolutely not true!

I felt many times while in foster care and being moved
from one home to another, the same feelings many of
you are having. But I have been able to overcome them
and so can you!

YOU are of value! You can hold your head up proudly!
You can be whatever you choose to be!

Yes, even those of you who may have done something
wrong to get placed within the foster system…you can
overcome this mistake; it can become something of the
past. All of us have made a mistake in our
lives…maybe even more than one, but we learned from
our mistakes and moved forward. You can do this as
well. You need to begin making those changes today.

Your foster parents do care about you and what happens
to you, whether you are in your current home for a
short term or a longer time. They would not be foster
parents if they did not care about children and want
to help. No, they are not in foster care for the money
they receive to assist in your care. In many
situations your foster parents will spend far more
than what they receive.

I will not say that foster parents will not do a
wrong. Yes, as in every situation in life there may be
a bad one. This is true also with biological/adoptive
parents as well. If one does neglect you or do you
harm in any way then you must report it. Please make
sure any allegation you make however is in fact true.
Do not make allegations just because of how they may
have felt it necessary to discipline you one day and
you get angry at them and try to get back at them.
Never, ever make a false allegation.

Honor, respect and obey your foster parents. They do
in fact have your best interest at heart. Whether you
are with them for a short time or longer time they
will do the best they can for you.

I know most of you wish that you were not in foster
care; that you could be home either with your Mom and
Dad or an adoptive family. That may or may not come
someday. You must make the very best of your
situation. I ended up staying in the system until I
was eighteen. I never had a permanent Mom and Dad all
the time I was growing up. Despite this, I hope I have
become a person any Mom and Dad could have been proud
of. That is my hope for each and every one of you as
well.

I know you can do it! Study hard, work hard and find a
mentor or two who will be there for you through thick
and thin. Most importantly; know that you have
self-worth, not only to yourself but to others. You
can reach for the highest of goals…don’t let anyone
convince you otherwise!

If I can make it…I know you can!